Genetically Engineered Tomatoes Offer Plaque-Fighting Abilities

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

At the American Heart Association´s Scientific Sessions 2012, researchers recently revealed that genetically engineered tomato plants were able to create a peptide, a string of amino acids, that works similarly to good cholesterol when it is consumed.

In the study, mice that consumed modified, freeze-dried, ground tomatoes showed signs of less inflammation and had a decreased amount of plaque build-up in the arteries (otherwise know as atherosclerosis).

“We were looking for a way to be able to make. The good cholesterol that might be able to be practical in the standpoint of being easily produced and available without having to chemically purify it. So that led us to genetically engineered tomatoes, so the tomatoes actually make the peptide as part of the tomatoes. To our surprise and delight, when we fed it to the mice, without having to chemically remove the peptide and purify it, it worked just fine. That was the main finding of our study,” said the study´s senior author Dr. Alan M. Fogelman, who serves as the executive chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in a video clip.

To produce 6F, a small peptide that copies the ability of chief protein in high-density lipoprotein ApoA-1, the scientists genetically engineered the tomatoes. High density lipoprotein is also known as HDL or “good” cholesterol. Mice that didn´t have the ability to take out low density lipoprotein, otherwise known as “LDL” or bad cholesterol, from their blood were offered the tomatoes.

“We have found a new and practical way to make a peptide that acts like the main protein in good cholesterol, but is many times more effective and can be delivered by eating the plant,” explained Fogelman, who also works as director of the Atherosclerosis Research Unit in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a prepared statement.

Following consumption, the peptide-enhanced tomatoes were able to help reduce blood levels of inflammation, increase levels of good cholesterol, decrease atherosclerotic plaque, as well as reduce lysophosphatidic acid which lowered the amount of plaque build-up in the arteries of animals.

“To our knowledge this is the first example of a drug with these properties that has been produced in an edible plant and is biologically active when fed without any isolation or purification of the drug,” continued Fogelman in the statement.

The researchers believe that the findings have long-lasting implications.

“Anything that we do is not a substitute for eating a proper diet and exercising or not smoking. It´s additive. If we ever get to humans, and we´re a long way from that, it would not be to enable people to ignore what they eat. But to make it so that, with the best diets, we can do better than we are doing currently—that would be our hope,” noted Fogelman.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that someone has engineered a plant to a peptide or protein that can be fed without having to purify or isolate it and get ht effect o the reduction in inflammation. We would hope that this technology would potentially have broad applications, in a way for us to think of delivering therapeutic agents that would be different from the way that we do now,” he concluded.

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