GM purple tomatoes developed at John Innes Centre in Norwich
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010
Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have developed genetically modified purple tomatoes with added health benefits.
They are being grown at a 5000 sq ft glasshouse at New Energy Farms in Ontario, Canada and are now being harvested, for future research and to attract interest from private investors.
The glasshouse will yield enough tomatoes to produce 2000 litres of purple tomato juice.
It will be used to generate new research and industry collaborations and to start the process of seeking the regulatory authorisation needed to bring a commercial juice to market.
JIC’s Professor Cathie Martin said: “We want to explore a way for consumers to benefit from our discoveries, as we are finding there is a demand for the added health benefits.”
The colour of the tomatoes is derived from high levels of the pigment, anthocyanins, compounds normally found in blueberries, blackberries and other deeply coloured berries.
The purple tomatoes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects compared to regular ones and to slow the progression of soft-tissue carcinoma in cancer-prone mice. They also have double the shelf life.
Paul Carver, chief executive officer of New Energy Farms, said: “The most amazing thing is the potential to supply an expensive compound from nature more economically to large markets for food, livestock feed, cosmetics, food colourings and even pharmaceuticals.”
The tomatoes and juice can be used to study the effects of a high anthocyanin diet on cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
Other varieties, high in compounds such as resveratrol normally found in red wine, are already being used to develop skin care products in collaboration with Essex company Biodeb.
Bringing the juice to the food market will require regulatory approval and may be possible in as little as two years in North America.
Mr Carver said: “Our position in Canada is quite strong. The regulatory process and a vibrant market make a product like this globally competitive.
“In the future, more products like this with high-levels of compounds for human health will become available and on a much larger scale.”
The research so far has been funded by the EU and through the JIC’s strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
With Professor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory, Professor Martin has formed the UK’s first GM crop spin-out company, Norfolk Plant Sciences, to explore the commercial potential of plants with increased levels of health-giving compounds.