The possibility of bringing genetically modified (GM) purple tomatoes to the gardens and plates of home-growers has moved a crucial step closer, following a decision by United States regulators. Norfolk Plant Sciences Ltd announced a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which means US home-growers may be able to purchase seeds and grow the nutritionally enhanced, high-anthocyanin, purple tomato from (northern) spring 2023.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), “has determined that [Norfolk Plant Sciences’] modified tomato is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk relative to its comparator.” According to this decision, the purple tomato is no longer subject to the regulations limiting “Movement of Organisms Modified or Produced through Genetic Engineering.”
NPS is a spinout company from the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory research institutes. It was established by Professors Cathie Martin and Jonathan Jones as the UK’s first GM crop company, with the aim of commercialising their research into plants with enhanced health-giving compounds.
Professor Martin developed the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato in 2008 by engineering a precise genetic “on switch,” derived from an edible flower.
“The bittersweet thing is that the tomatoes will be on sale in America and not the UK as well, but the plus side is that by focusing on home growers we will be consumer-oriented, and we will be able to get feedback and interest needed to develop other products.”, she said.
Anthocyanins are antioxidants associated with a host of health benefits and are important to an anti-inflammatory diet. Independent studies show that antioxidants and anthocyanins can reduce incidence of cancer, improve cardiovascular function, and improve health and well-being. Lab studies also suggest these healthy compounds could help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.
Although purple-skinned tomato varieties exist, they do not accumulate useful levels of these healthy compounds within the fruit flesh.
High anthocyanin levels have also been associated with plant defences against grey mould (Botrytis spp) and a resultant extension of shelf life.