British scientists reported last week that genetically engineered tomatoes, rendered purple by an abundance of cancer-fighting chemicals normally found in dark berries, helped prevent cancer in mice.
In the British study, a special breed of cancer prone mice lived an average of 182 days on a diet containing the purple tomatoes, whereas the same breed of mice lived only 142 days on a standard diet.
Cathie Martin and her team carried out the research at the John Innes Center in the UK, and published their findings in Nature Biotechnology. The study supports the theory that vegetables can be genetically modified to enhance their health promoting characteristics.
“The effect was much bigger than we expected,” Martin told Reuters.
The cancer preventing ingredients in the purple tomatoes are anthocyanins which are normally found in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and concord grapes. The antioxidant compounds have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and certain neurological diseases.
For this study, Martin’s team spliced anthocyanin-producing genes from a snapdragon flower (pictured) into the DNA of a tomato. The resulting phenotype was a purple tomato that contained three times the antioxidant capacity of red tomatoes.
While the results are exciting, Dr. Lara Bennett, a science information officer at Cancer Research UK told Reuters, “It’s too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help reduce the risk of cancer” in humans.
It’s also too early to say whether the world is ready for purple pizza.