Super-powered purple tomatoes

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Tomatoes are one of the world’s most popular fruits (yes, a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable!). Not only are they popular, they’re packed with vitamin C and antioxidants that keep your skin, eyes, and heart healthy. But… what if scientists wanted to transform a regular tomato into a super tomato? Turns out that they did!

See, there’s this stuff called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) inside all living things – like you and tomatoes. What is DNA? It’s a set of instructions in your body that tells it how to grow and function. Even though a lot of DNA is the same, there are small differences from person to person, and of course from person to fruit. These differences are why some people have brown hair and others have blonde hair. It’s why some people are boys and others are girls. It’s even the reason you’re a human and not a tomato!

norfolk tomatoHere’s the cool thing. Scientists know how to change the DNA of living things, through a process called “genetic modification”. By changing the instructions, they can transform how a living thing grows. When scientists in the John Innes Centre did this to a tomato, they switched up its DNA so that its fruity body now comes with new features!

One cool effect is that they now grow with extra nutrients. To test just how healthy these new tomatoes were, scientists fed a few to some mice who were at risk for developing cancer. The mice ended up living longer and healthier lives!

The tomato itself lasted longer than normal, too. Without DNA changes, in order to make tomatoes last longer, farmers need to harvest them while they are still green. The problem with doing this is that these green tomatoes don’t taste as good as the ones picked when they’re red. Even if tomatoes are picked when they’re green, they’re only fresh for about 21 days. The new genetically modified tomatoes can be picked while red and still last a long time because of their slower ripening rate. Guess how long these super tomatoes last? Almost 50 days! Also, these new tomatoes also stronger at fighting diseases that may cause them to rot. But you know what I think is the coolest part? The tomatoes turned out purple instead of red!

Scientists are now working to give similar superpowers to other fruits in the future, and companies like Norfolk Plant Sciences are deeply involved in plant science research. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll have a blue banana and a green jelly sandwich for lunch!

Images courtesy of Norfolk Plant Sciences