Purple tomatoes are not a figment of some farmers’ creative imagination, they are actually real and created through genetic modifications in order to crank up the antioxidant pigments. U.S. regulators have decided that these tomatoes can be introduced to the American public. The seeds, developed by Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) will bring the “Big Purple Tomato” to the public after being signed off by the USDA.
The seeds will be available for purchase sometime in early 2023 and were given a green light after it was found that they did not have an increased plant pest risk when compared to the red tomatoes we are all used to.
Professor Cathie Martin, from the Jon Innes Centre in the UK, who brought the Big Purple Tomato to life, shared: “This is fantastic, I never thought I would see this day. We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people excited to eat them.”
Dr. Martin along with her team developed the purple hued tomatoes in 2008 by using a simple genetic modification that had the plants produce higher levels of anthocyanins, which are typically found in red cabbage, blueberries, and more.
While regular red tomatoes carry the anthocyanin-producing gene, they are not “turned on,” which is why they do not have the purple color. In order to activate these genes, scientists added two genes from snapdragon flowers, which are native to North America, North Africa, and Europe.
In addition to looking beautiful, high levels of anthocyanins also provide health benefits like a reduced risk of heart disease. However, it is still unclear just how beneficial these are and need to be studied further.
Professor John Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory shared: “When Cathie and I founded NPS nearly 15 years ago to bring to market health-promoting, genetically enhanced purple tomatoes, invented in the UK, we never thought it would take so long to obtain regulatory approval.”
While genetically modified tomatoes are certainly not novel, they have been a tough market to get just right. For example, the Flavr Savr was released in the 1990s, and was a tomato that was genetically modified to last longer on shelves. It also saw increased fungal resistance and a different texture.
These longer lasting tomatoes were approved by the FDA in 1994 and called “as safe as tomatoes bred by conventional means,” landing them on supermarket shelves. Despite this, within 3 years of release, they were no longer made available, as the public was nervous about “Frankenfood.”
However, almost 3 decades later, Americans are viewing things differently and are perhaps more aware of what the term “genetically modified” means without becoming immediately scared. Now is the Big Purple Tomato’s time, and we will see how it will be received by the public.