Thursday, July 11, 2013


Every consumer identifies red color with tomato and brighter the color, more appealing is the produce to most consumers. Can any consumer reconcile to a color other than red when it comes to tomatoes? Wine ripened tomatoes, though cost a little more, are much sought after because of the natural ripening process while still attached to the plant whereas ethylene ripened fruits are a pale shadow of naturally ripened tomato. There are also hybrid varieties that is firmer in texture and easily amenable to stand the rigors of transport over long distances but it appears they are incapable of ripening fully to the glorious red color. Industry is pulled between its desire to please the consumer on one hand and ground realities vis-a-vis handling, packing, storage, distribution and marketing on the other hand  that may entail significant losses through rotting. If the latest development in tomato breeding is any indication scientists are about to launch a new variety of tomato with a purple color and extraordinarily tough texture that can withstand long journeys with almost 100% more shelf life! The GM route adopted by the researchers to create this variety may be some what controversial but if their safety is proved beyond a shadow of doubt, it may be a win-win situation for both the consumer and the produce industry. Here is a take on this new development which will have significant impact on health of the population.

In research to be published in Current Biology, Martin and colleagues studied tomatoes enriched in anthocyanin, a natural pigment that confers high antioxidant capacity. The purple GM tomatoes have already been found to prolong the lives of cancer-prone mice and in the latest findings they also more double the normal shelf life of tomatoes from an average of 21 days to 48 days. "Post-harvest losses due to rotting are such a serious problem for growers and supermarkets that even an increased shelf life of one day would make an enormous difference to them," said Yang Zhang, lead author from the John Innes Centre. One way to improve shelf life is to pick tomatoes early when they are still green and induce them to ripen artificially with ethylene. However, this results in loss of flavour. Another method is to grow varieties that never fully ripen, but these also never develop a full flavour. In the current study, anthocyanins were found to slow down the over-ripening process that leads to rotting and softening, achieving a tomato with a long shelf life and full flavour. The purple tomatoes were also less susceptible to one of the most important post harvest diseases, grey mould caused by Botrytis cinerea.

Anthocyanins are well known antioxidants with far reaching health benefits and the new variety of purple tomato will go a long way to protect humans from diseases like cancer if the rat studies are duplicated in humans through clinical trials. Though the exact procedure in evolving this new variety has not been revealed, it is safe to assume that the same will be patented. One crucial question that will throw a spanner on the commercial success of purple tomato is whether the consumers will accept a GM product if there is transparency in labeling. Probably it may take some years before purple tomato starts adoring the dining table, at least in that GMO loving country, America!  


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