Genetically modified tomatoes that are rich in purple antioxidants called anthocyanins cause cancer prone mice to live longer. Tests on mice that lacked the p53 gene, which helps protect against cancer, showed the mice that were fed the purple tomatoes lived 30% longer than those who ate only normal red tomatoes.
British researchers from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, England, published their results this week in Nature Biotechnology. They were investigating ways to increase the levels of antioxidants in common fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes naturally contain the beneficial antioxidant compounds, lycopene and flavonoids. By taking two genes from the snapdragon plant and turning them on in the tomato, they were able to create a genetically modified fruit that added the antioxidant, anthocyanin.
The researchers created the purple tomatoes by linking the two genes from the snapdragon flower with a regular tomato plant. The anthocyanins give the tomatoes a purple color. Although the results were preliminary, scientists are hopeful that the new purple tomatoes may help cancer patients in the future.
Anthocyanins offer protection against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases. There is also evidence that anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory activity and hinder obesity and diabetes. Research has shown that natural dark purple pigments in fruits, vegetables and berries have beneficial health benefits. Other powerhouse fruits that contain anthocyanins are blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and currants.
This is more evidence that what you eat can have a profound impact on your health and longevity. Since most people do not eat the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day, it is exciting to see new techniques that may boost the benefits of the fruits we eat.
The research was funded by the EU and by JIC's core strategic grant from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).