A GMO Purple Tomato Is Coming to Grocery Aisles. Will the US Bite?

Emily Mullin wrote . . . . . . . . .

In December 2004, plant scientist Cathie Martin went to the greenhouse to check on her tomatoes. The tiny fruits, about the size of gumdrops, were still green. These miniature tomatoes, a variety widely used in research labs, normally become red upon ripening. But when Martin came back after Christmas, they were starting to turn purple—just as she’d hoped.

Martin and her colleagues at the John Innes Centre in the UK were aiming to make a tomato high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant-rich pigment found in blackberries and blueberries. The team engineered the jewel tone by adding two genes from the snapdragon flower, which act like a switch to turn on the production of anthocyanins. Over the years, Martin and her team have crossed their purple tomatoes with other breeds to make them bigger—and tastier—than the micro variety they initially grew.

Now, the United States Department of Agriculture has decided that their purple tomato can be grown and cultivated in the US. On September 7, the agency issued a statement saying the tomato is “unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated tomatoes” and is not subject to regulation. (This is the main criteria the agency uses to determine whether crops made using biotechnology should be regulated.) Norfolk Plant Sciences, a company cofounded by Martin, plans to roll out a purple cherry tomato in a handful of test markets in 2023. The biotech firm is also working on purple tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes, and beefsteak tomatoes, and plans to sell seeds for backyard gardeners. “We hope people will eventually grow their own,” says Martin.

Martin’s purple tomato isn’t the first genetically modified fruit to be approved in the US. It’s not even the first genetically modified tomato—that designation goes to the Flavr Savr, introduced back in 1994 as the first genetically modified food crop commercialized for human consumption. The Flavr Savr was created to have a longer shelf life than conventionally bred tomatoes. But because of its high production and distribution costs, it was pulled from the market just a few years later. The industry instead turned toward more profitable engineered crops, such as corn and soy, designed with the grower or producer in mind: to resist pests, tolerate herbicides, or produce higher yields.

The purple tomato may mark a turning point for genetically modified foods in the US: Its engineered trait is meant to entice the shopper, not the farmer—specifically one interested in potential health benefits. “This is a trait that is mainly for the consumer,” says Bárbara Blanco-Ulate, a fruit biologist and professor at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in developing the purple tomato. “People want food that is more nutritious and exciting.”

While purple-skinned tomatoes have been developed through conventional breeding, they don’t accumulate high levels of anthocyanins in the flesh. There’s evidence from other researchers that these compounds may help prevent cancer, reduce inflammation, and protect against type 2 diabetes. And in a 2008 study, Martin and her team found that mice that were predisposed to developing cancer lived 30 percent longer on a diet supplemented with purple tomatoes than mice on a regular diet supplemented with normal red tomatoes. (Of course, animal studies don’t always translate to humans, and there are many lifestyle and genetic factors that may affect a person’s cancer risk.)

About a half-cup of purple tomatoes has as many anthocyanins as the same amount of blueberries, according to Martin. The average American consumes around 12.5 milligrams of these antioxidants per day, and Norfolk Plant Sciences estimates that a half-cup serving of its purple tomatoes contains 250 milligrams of anthocyanins.

In addition to producing more of this compound, the snapdragon genes seem to have another beneficial effect: The tomatoes don’t soften and spoil as quickly as others. In a 2013 study, Martin and her colleagues found that the purple tomatoes had a shelf life twice as long as the regular red variety, in part because they are slower to ripen at later stages.

Other purple produce is popping up in grocery stores everywhere: There are purple potatoes, purple cauliflower, purple carrots, and purple yams. But these vegetables are produced using conventional breeding, in which parent plants with certain attributes are crossed to create a desirable combination. The purple tomato, on the other hand, is considered a genetically-modified organism (GMO) because it’s made with recombinant DNA technology, in which genes from another organism are added.

It’s not yet clear whether these characteristics will be enough to win over consumers who are wary of GMOs. Since their introduction in the 1990s, extensive research has shown that genetically modified foods are just as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. Still, a poll conducted in October 2019 by the Pew Research Center found that about half of US adults are concerned about the health effects of genetically modified foods, while 41 percent say they have a neutral effect on health and 7 percent say they are better for health than other foods.

Blanco-Ulate thinks many of the initial fears about “Frankenfoods”—a nickname coined in the 1990s—have subsided, and that younger generations may be more open to trying genetically modified foods that promise benefits. “If the trait—in this case, a purple tomato that is high in antioxidants—is more important than the fact that it’s a GMO, I think people will eat it,” she says.

Nathan Pumplin, president and CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce, the US arm of Norfolk Plant Sciences that will commercialize the product, is very aware that a large segment of consumers may reject the purple tomato. But he’s hoping to connect with those who are more open to eating them. He says the company plans to first introduce their purple tomato at farmers markets. “It’s a place where growers get to directly interact with consumers, and consumers can ask: ‘What is this new vegetable? How was it grown? Where did it come from?’ We really want to have those intimate conversations with consumers early on,” he says.

Like other genetically engineered foods, the purple tomato will be subject to federal labeling requirements by the USDA, which went into effect at the beginning of the year. Food manufacturers, importers, and retailers are now required to label these foods as “bioengineered” or “derived from bioengineering.”

Cost may also be a factor that sways shoppers. In 2016, the US green-lit a genetically engineered pink pineapple that’s sweeter and juicier than the traditional yellow version. It produces lower levels of an enzyme that converts the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. The pink pineapple debuted at $49 and can now be found for as low as $10, which is still more than double the price of a regular yellow one.

Pumplin didn’t say exactly how much the purple tomato would cost, only that it would initially have a “premium price.” He hopes that as supply and demand grow, the company will be able to offer it more affordably.

Fred Gould, codirector of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center of North Carolina State University, says it will be up to consumers to decide just how valuable a purple tomato is. After all, they can get anthocyanins from other sources—berries, eggplant, and cabbage, for instance.

What’s more, it’s not known how much anthocyanin is needed to reap potential health benefits. These compounds are not considered essential nutrients, and there is no established daily intake for anthocyanin. “There is some uncertainty in what they’re doing. Is this fruit actually healthier for you? Maybe it is, but it would be really interesting to see the data,” he says. “I think this is a good opportunity for people to start discussing what kind of evidence they would like to see to be convinced that these tomatoes are healthier.”

Source: WIRED






Home-cooked Bento





Coffee Might Give Some Men an Edge Battling Prostate Cancer

Cara Murez wrote . . . . . . . . .

For some men battling prostate cancer, drinking coffee may offer not just a quick pick-me-up but longer survival.

Research is still in the early phases, but a new study finds an association between a genotype that metabolizes caffeine quickly and longer survival from prostate cancer. That genotype is called CYP1A2 AA.

“I’m very excited about this work because each time we’re digging in deeper. I think it has some really interesting findings that say, ‘Hey, there may be something here.’ We need to look more into what could be going on in terms of coffee and impact on people’s lives, and especially those who are diagnosed with cancer,” said lead study author Dr. Justin Gregg. He is a urologic oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Gregg said one of the most frequent questions he hears in his work is how can someone slow down a cancer or even prevent one from developing.

While there is a lot of interest in how diet and activity affect cancer risk, there aren’t many specific recommendations, especially for patients already diagnosed with cancer, Gregg said.

Past research on coffee and its potential health benefits, with antioxidants that may affect inflammation, made it an interesting subject. Gregg said he was further intrigued by another study that looked at differing genotypes and the speed at which they metabolize caffeine.

This new study included data for prostate cancer cases across studies that were in the PRACTICAL Consortium, which stands for Prostate Cancer Association Group to Investigate Cancer Associated Alterations in the Genome. It included over 5,700 cases from seven studies.

Patients included those on active surveillance, where their cancer isn’t treated while it’s watched for change; those who were treated for their prostate cancer; and some patients who had cancer that had metastasized.

Limitations included that patients were asked to recall their own food and drink consumption and data was from seven different sites, which asked patients to recall consumption dating back varying lengths of time.

The researchers compared levels of coffee consumption, such as those who were considered high intake at two or more cups per day and those who were low intake at three or more cups per week.

High coffee intake was linked to longer prostate cancer-specific survival in men who had the CYP1A2 AA genotype, the investigators found.

“There’s a chance in the future, with additional research, that looking at things like what to do in your diet based on certain patient groups could be something that is used to augment the care of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Gregg said. “It may become part of a number of things that clinicians and others look at when they’re treating men with prostate cancer.”

The findings were published online recently in the journal European Urology Oncology.

Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, said what he took away from the study was that if a person is a coffee drinker and has prostate cancer, there’s no reason to stop drinking coffee and there may be some benefit.

Oftentimes people will live for many years, even decades, with a prostate cancer diagnosis, and people’s coffee habits may change, so there may be factors that confound the data, Dahut said. The authors are upfront about the potential shortcomings, too, he added, commending them for pulling all of the data together.

“There’s at least a theoretical reason why it’s helpful, but there’s not enough information out there for us to say, ‘If you have prostate cancer, you need to start drinking coffee’ either,” Dahut said.

Other studies have looked at whether different foods such as tomatoes or milk might help prevent or slow cancer, but it can be hard to control for differences in how the items are cooked or mixed with other foods, he noted.

“Food likely actually has an impact on cancer. We certainly know there’s correlations with high BMI [body mass index] and multiple cancers, but it’s very difficult to study,” Dahut said.

About 268,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 34,500 will die.

Cases vary, but many men have their conditions monitored with what’s called active surveillance, testing for changes in the cancer but not treating it. Sometimes there is never a need to intervene, Dahut said.

Those who may have greater risks because of genetics or for other reasons typically have surgery to remove the prostate or undergo radiation.

“I do think these large-scale population studies are important because they do give us clues about where science should go,” Dahut said.

Source: HealthDay





Chicken Rendang


4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shredded coconut
4 small red or white onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
1-2 lemongrass stalks, root trimmed
1-inch piece fresh galangal, peeled and sliced
5 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
2-3 teaspoons chili powder or to taste
1-3/4 cups canned coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt
fresh chives and deep-fried anchovies, to garnish


  1. Halve the chicken breasts, sprinkle with the sugar and leave to stand for about 1 hour.
  2. Dry fry the coconut in a wok or large frying pan over medium to low heat, turning all the time until it is crisp and golden. Transfer the fried coconut to a food processor and process to an oily paste. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.
  3. Add the onions, garlic and ginger to the processor. Cut off the lower 2 inches of the lemongrass, chop and add to the processor with the galangal. Process to a fine paste.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan and fry the onion mixture for a few minutes. Reduce the heat, stir in the chili powder and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Spoon in 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and add salt to taste.
  5. As soon as the mixture bubbles, add the chicken pieces, turning them until they are well coated with the spices. Pour in the remaining coconut milk, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Bruise the top of the lemongrass stalks and add to the wok or pan. Cover and cook gently for 40-45 minutes until the chicken is tender.
  6. Just before serving stir in the coconut paste. Bring to just below boiling point, then simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh chives and deep fried anchovies.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Asian Cooking

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