- François-Xavier Branthôme
Researchers continue to increase significant amount of antioxidants in tomatoes. University of Hong Kong researchers have generated "super tomatoes" by boosting antioxidant properties through genetic engineering.
The university's School of Biological Sciences collaborated with the Institut de Biologie Moleculaire des Plantes (CNRS, Strasbourg, France) in the research that led to a way to increase significantly the amount of antioxidants. The result was a tomato which had six times the amount of vitamin E than in a conventional tomato. Provitamin A, a pigment that provides the orange, yellow and red hues in carrots, pumpkins and paprika, went up 169 percent. And lycopene, which gives tomatoes the bright red colour, rose 111 percent.
Early on, the team experimented with Indian mustard and found enzyme activity surged by changing the sequence of amino acids in a DNA. Members then introduced the DNA into tomatoes.
To look at, the new tomatoes do not appear different or bigger than others, but the antioxidants surged. And once extracted red and yellow pigments appear darker in colour and exhibit a higher antioxidant activity.
"The accumulation of the healthy components in food crops will provide added value to fruits and vegetables in the human diet," said Chye Mee-len, the professor who led the research.
Researchers admit there is a long way to go before the modified tomatoes are ready for human consumption. For starters, they must go through animal tests. Also, countries have different views on DNA-modified food.
In Hong Kong, the researchers are required to grow the tomatoes in a greenhouse. And to farm them on a larger scale could involve a move to the mainland - if authorities approve.