Tomatoes come in many different shades and hues: red, light, but also orange, yellow, green… Now a new genetically modified purple tomato is one step closer to the market. And it has been developed with the goal of not only being beautiful, but also good for you.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved a new tomato from Norfolk Plant Sciences that has been modified to change its color, extend its shelf life and improve its nutritional quality.
“From a plant pest risk perspective, this plant can be safely grown and used in breeding in the United States,” the agency says in a Sept. 7 news release.
Norfolk Plant Sciences responded to the USDA approval by announcing that it would pave the way for the company to make the seeds of its “nutritionally enhanced high anthrocyanin purple tomato” available for purchase by US home growers in from spring 2023. The same tomatoes are also expected to be commercially available in 2023.
Cathie Martin, a professor at the John Innes Center whose work involves using plant science to improve human diet and health, developed the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato in 2008 by engineering a derived genetic “switch” of an edible flower. Billed as the UK’s first GM crop company, Norfolk Plant Sciences was founded by Sainsbury Laboratory Professor Martin and Johnathan Jones to commercialize their research into plants with health-enhancing compounds.
Martin celebrated the news of the expected USDA approval in a press release. “This is great, I never thought I would see this day. Now we are one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with many people who want to eat them,” he said. “The bittersweet thing is that the tomatoes will be on sale in America and not also in the UK. But the advantage is that by focusing on home growers we will be consumer-oriented and can get the feedback and interest needed to develop other products.” .
Although purple tomatoes already exist, this new purple tomato has been developed to “produce the highest levels of anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds with widely recognized health benefits,” Norfolk Plant Sciences says on its website . According to the company, the anthocyanins in new tomatoes exist at levels similar to those found in antioxidant superfoods like blueberries. In addition to their anti-inflammatory qualities, tomatoes reduce waste due to their longer shelf life, make good on-the-go snacks, and also “taste great” and are “beautiful in special dishes.”
Norfolk Plant Sciences co-founder Jones called the USDA approval “a red-letter day for crop improvement.” No to purple-card day?