Scientists in the UK are researching health benefits linked to a new strain of genetically modified purple tomatoes, which have been in development over the past five years.
The purple tomato was first conceived in the UK by professor Cathie Martin at Norfolk-based microbial science research facility John Innes Centre, by splicing a regular tomato with a gene from the snapdragon plant. Due to tight restrictions on growing genetically modified (GM) products in the European Union, Martin's tomatoes were developed in Canada.
"Canada is very enlightened," explains Martin. "They look at the trait, not the technology – asking if what you're doing is safe and beneficial, not 'is it GM and therefore we're going to reject it completely'."
The purple tomatoes are rich in anthocyanin – an antioxidant present in fruits like blueberries and cranberries. It has been shown to yield anti-inflammatory effects and protect against certain cancers and heart disease. Anthocyanin also slows the development of rot and mould, thereby doubling the shelf life of the tomatoes.
The purple tomato is likely to be approved for sale in North America in a juice format within the next two years.