Purple tomatoes raise hopes of GM Crops enthusiasts!

The tomatoes approved by USDA have been gene edited to produce 10 times more antioxidants than pre-existing varieties

After over 14 years of development of a nutritionally enhanced purple tomato, the genetically modified (GM) crop, has been recognized as safe to grow by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The tomatoes have been gene edited to produce 10 times more antioxidants than pre-existing varieties. This authorization means the genetically modified plant is no longer regulated with strict controls limiting where and can be safely grown anywhere in the United States like any other allowable crop.
The tomato was developed by a team of scientists, including British biochemist Cathie Martin, who is a professor at the University of East Anglia and a project leader at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.
The researchers led by Cathie Martin are particularly interested in phenolic compounds present in fruit and vegetables and also considered to be the main ‘active ingredients’ of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’. They generated purple tomatoes with very high levels of specific phenolic compounds combining the use of transcription factors, biosynthetic genes and RNAi with the availability of natural tomato mutants. Using purple, high-anthocyanin tomatoes they’ve shown that their inclusion in the diet of cancer-prone mice can extend life-span by 30%, resulting in worldwide recognition that anthocyanins are important health-promoting dietary constituents.
What do purple tomatoes offer?
• High in anthocyanins, similar levels to antioxidant superfoods like blueberries
Reduced waste, thanks to longer shelf life
Beautiful in special dishes, convenient snacks for on-the-go
They tested the purple tomatoes and compared them with red control fruit, using different in vivo and in vitro models for different human diseases to verify ‘super food’ claims, identify the most promising phenolic compounds and provide recommendations on the specific foods that can provide the best protection against a specific human disease.
In this way they can provide a scientific foundation for personalized nutrition. The lab can also use their system as a bio-factory for the production of valuable chemicals, food colourants, supplements or active compounds for medicines and cosmetics.


The actual story began long back when a study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology during 2008 reported on a type of tomato that had been gene edited to produce high volumes of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Two genes were taken from the snapdragon plant and added to a type of purple tomato. These genes amplified the plant’s ability to produce anthocyanins, resulting in a unique tomato with richly purple-colored flesh.
The study shared the details on testing of the health effects of this anthocyanin-boosted tomato on mice engineered to develop cancer. The mice fed a diet supplemented with the purple tomatoes were found to live 30% longer than mice fed a regular diet.
Anthocyanins are naturally found in plenty of foods, such as blueberries and red cabbage. They are responsible for the purple pigment in those foods and have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some types of tomato with naturally purple skins do contain low levels of anthocyanins but some food scientists wondered if those levels could be increased with a few genetic tweaks.
Way Forward
After a long time spent navigating regulatory processes, the genetically modified purple tomato is now one step closer to the market. Norfolk Plant Sciences, a company cofounded by Cathie Martin and Jonathan Jones, plans to roll out a purple cherry tomato in a handful of test markets in 2023. The company is a spin-out from the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory, which together form one of the world’s leading plant science research institutes.
To enable their ground-breaking plant research to make a positive impact in people’s lives, the biotech firm is also working on purple tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes, and beefsteak tomatoes, and plans to sell seeds for backyard gardeners.
The roll out of GM purple tomatoes in the US has raised hopes among the supporters of the genetically modified crops in India who have been repeatedly pointing out the success of GM brinjal in Bangladesh. While there might not be any buzz at the government level, it will certainly reignite the debates for regulatory approval.