Since the advancement of genetic engineering, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become commonplace, not only in health and medical research, but also in agriculture. Scientists at the John Innes Centre have developed a new strain of genetically modified tomatoes that can produce resveratrol, which is known to be a natural disease-fighting compound. Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in grapes that is also present in red wine. It has been reported in studies to increase the lifespan of animals. There are also some claims saying it is an effective supplement in fighting diabetes, heart conditions, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer, although these are yet to be solidly proven. The scientists were able to modify the fruit so that it produces the resveratrol equivalent of 50 bottles of red wine per tomato.
Besides resveratrol, the scientists were also able to create tomatoes that produce genistein, a compound normally found in soya beans that has been linked to preventing steroid-hormone-related cancers like breast cancer. Each tomato has the compound at an amount equivalent to 2.5 kg of tofu.
The genetically modified tomatoes were able to produce the compounds at an industrial scale, ultimately making the study a huge success. The compounds can be directly purified from the tomato juice. In the future, similar procedures may be used to mass produce other natural occurring compounds, including terpenoids and alkaloids, which are major groups of medicinal compounds from plants. This new method provides a cost effective way of manufacturing such compounds instead of synthesizing them in lab or harvesting them from the current natural sources. Tomatoes were chosen because they have very high yield, don’t require much attention, and are relatively cheap to grow. Yields can be as high as 500 tons per hectare.