Genetically tweaked purple tomatoes that are brimming with antioxidant pigments could soon be part of the everyday diet of gardening Americans sometime next spring. This has become possible thanks to a recent decision of the US regulators to sign off a review that allows people in the US to buy seeds and grow the Big Purple Tomato that was developed by Norfolk Plant Sciences.
Purple Tomatoes to Emerge on the US Market in Early 2023
The genetically modified tomatoes were given the go-ahead after regulators determined that they did not pose an increased risk for plant pests compared to their red tomato cousins. Professor Cathie Martin, the brain behind the Big Purple Tomato, stated that they were now one step closer to realizing her dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with people who were excited to eat them. The purple tomatoes were developed by Professor Martin and a John Innes Centre team in 2008. They were made with a simple genetic modification that told the plants to make more anthocyanins, a pigment commonly found in abundance in foods like blueberries, red cabbage, and other superfoods.
Scientists Used Genes From Snapdragons
While the classic red tomato has genes to produce anthocyanins, they are dormant in most fruits. There are also purple-skinned tomato varieties but none of them have high levels of anthocyanins. So, to create purple tomatoes and turn on their innate anthocyanin-producing ability, scientists added two genes from snapdragons. The flower is vibrantly colored and native to North America, Europe, and North Africa. Now, the team has purple, anthocyanin-rich tomatoes. While many believe high levels of anthocyanins are directly linked to some health benefits, not all of the purported health care claims related to those have been verified and there are some who argue it’s too early for such hype.
Getting regulatory approval was a long journey for the team. According to professor Jonathan Jones, when he and Cathie founded Norfolk Plant Sciences 15 years ago, they wanted to bring health-promoting and genetically enhanced purple tomatoes to the market. He added that they never thought it would take them so long to get regulatory approval.