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Why genetically modified 'super tomatoes' grown in Norwich could help fight cancer

The tomatoes have been grown at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Photo:

Scientists in Norfolk have successfully grown genetically modified tomatoes which contain cancer fighting anti-oxidants.

Experts at the John Innes Centre in Norwich say their GM tomatoes have industrial quantities of compounds which can also fight diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

They've chosen tomatoes because it's a high yield crop and easy to grow.

Click below to hear from the scientists

Usually plants with an important medicinal value take longer to cultivate, so it's hoped this will create a more cost-effective way of producing these compounds in the future.

One GM tomato contains the same amount of resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine. Credit: PA

What's so good about the GM tomatoes?

  • One GM tomato contains as much of the grape compound resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine. This is also found in berries and peanuts and is thought to protect the heart and lower cholesterol.
  • They also produce the same amount of genistein as 2.5 kilograms of tofu. Genistein may help prevent breast cancer.

"Medicinal plants with high value are often difficult to grow and manage, and need very long cultivation times to produce the desired compounds.

Our research provides a fantastic platform to quickly produce these valuable medicinal compounds in tomatoes. Target compounds could be purified directly from tomato juice.

We believe our design idea could also be applied to other compounds such as terpenoids and alkaloids, which are the major groups of medicinal compounds from plants."

– Co-author Dr Yang Zhang
The tomatoes could help fight killer diseases, scientists claim. Credit: PA

How do the scientists develop the tomatoes?

The scientists introduce a protein called AtMYB12.

When the protein is introduced to the tomatoes, it boosts levels of phenylpropanoids which give rise to a wide range of plant chemicals.

The tomatoes can't be eaten yet though, due to strict EU rules.