October 28, 2008

Purple Tomatoes Could Prevent Disease

British scientists say they expressed two genes from snapdragon to induce the production of anthocyanins -- protective against cancers -- in tomatoes.

Cathie Martin of the Norwich BioScience Institutes in England said anthocyanins are naturally occurring pigments found at particularly high levels in berries such as blackberry, cranberry and chokeberry that offer protection against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative disease.

"Most people do not eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, but they can get more benefit from those they do eat if common fruit and vegetables can be developed that are higher in bioactive compounds," Martin said in a statement.

The scientists expressed genes from snapdragon in tomatoes to grow purple tomatoes high in health-protecting anthocyanins. Anthocyanins accumulated in tomatoes at higher levels than anything previously reported for metabolic engineering in both the peel and flesh of the fruit, Martin said. The fruit are an intense purple color.

"This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease," Martin said.

The research is scheduled to be published in Nature Biotechnology.