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This ‘Super Tomato’ Could Help Fight Cancer

Plant researchers in Norwich have figured out how to pack the humble tomato with antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB

As the world reels from the news that all those hot dogs and weekend fry-ups could be giving us cancer, it's worth remembering that sometimes, the stuff we eat can help prevent disease. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food, and all that.

When science gets involved, those medicinal properties can go from zero to 100, real quick.

Step forward the "super tomato," a newly developed fruit scientists say is brimming with cancer-fighting oxidants.


Grown by plant researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, one of these genetically modified tomatoes contains as much resveratrol (the grape compound thought to protect the heart and lower cholesterol) as 50 bottles of red wine. Another tomato produced the same amount of the breast cancer-preventing compound genistein as 2.5 kilograms of tofu.

READ MORE: This Island Eco-Farm Is Growing Britain's Sweetest Tomatoes

The researchers chose to super-fy tomatoes due to the fruit's high yield and ease of cultivation. Reporting the findings in the journal Nature Communications, they explained that AtMYB12, a protein found in the garden weed thale cress, was introduced to the tomatoes. This protein boosted the levels of phenylpropanoids in the fruit, increasing the range of plant chemicals. Genes encoding specific enzymes were then added to the tomatoes, causing them to produce resveratrol or genistein.

Study co-author Dr. Yang Zhang added: "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."

READ MORE: Tomatoes Can Prevent Men From Having to Pee in the Middle of the Night

Tomatoes are pretty great even without super status from Zhang and his team. The fruit is known for containing high levels of vitamin C, as well as heart disease-fighting lycopene. Earlier this month, researchers found that tomatoes could even help ease the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.

While EU food rules forbid the super tomatoes from being eaten, the John Innes researchers hope that their findings will allow for the development of more cost-effective ways of producing medicinal compounds in future.

And in the meantime, adding a few slices of tomato to your carcinogenic ham sandwich can't hurt.