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Genetically Modified Tomatoes are Healthier

It was considered a major breakthrough when the possibility of improving on nature by using molecular biology was first introduced. However, enthusiasm was replaced by anxiety and fear when it was suggested that food also could be improved using this new technology. The composition of any food is controlled by the genetic makeup of the plant, and so it was only a matter of time before scientists were able to start producing new and improved fruits and vegetables using the new technology.


Tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene in most people's diet. This complex molecule is responsible for the red colour in tomato and other things like watermelon and pink grapefruit. Scientists have attempted to link tomato/ lycopene consumption to a delay in the onset of prostate cancer; to date very little clinical data has been published to confirm this hypothesis. Possible protective mechanisms have been proposed that could explain any protective effects of lycopene including positive changes to androgen metabolism, reduction of circulating levels of prostate specific antigen, and protection to DNA at the cellular level. Tomatoes and tomato products are being viewed as functional foods and lycopene capsules are now on the market. However, like many active ingredients found in foods, the lycopene level in tomatoes is low and to get any effect most people have to start eating more tomatoes than they have ever done before.

If lycopene is good for health, why not increase people’s consumption by increasing the amount of lycopene in the common tomato? Researchers at the USDA and Purdue University have been able to do that by producing a genetically modified tomato that has 2-3.5 as much lycopene as the normal tomato. Everything else about the tomato is the same - only the lycopene content has been increased.

This is only one example. In the future other foods will be specifically modified to increase the concentration of a particular bio-active ingredient as a way of improving the health benefit of the fruit or vegetable. Used properly, and with adequate safety testing, genetically modified foods may become an important part of our health and wellness strategy.

Tomato Facts
Botanical name: Solanum lycopersicum
Probable Place of Origin: South America
Classification: a berry
Lycopene in the normal tomato: 3 mg / 100 g
Water content of a fresh tomato: 94%
Tomato capital of Canada: Leamington, ON

Learn More

Lycopene's Effects on Health and Diseases
Nat. Med. J. 2011,3:(3)

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