Norfolk Plant Sciences hosts a big mile

image: Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) has developed genetically modified (GM) purple tomatoes containing high levels of antioxidants and anthocyanins
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Credit: Andrew Davies – John Innes Center

A spin-off company’s dream of bringing genetically modified (GM) purple tomatoes to the gardens and dinner plates of US growers has reached a crucial milestone following a decision by US regulators.

Norfolk Plant Sciences Ltd has welcomed the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision, which means US growers should be able to purchase seed and grow the nutritionally-enhanced high-anthocyanin purple tomato. from spring 2023.

A Regulatory Status Review (RSR) released on Wednesday, September 7 indicates that the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) “has determined that [Norfolk Plant Sciences’] it is unlikely that the modified tomato presents an increased phytosanitary risk compared to its comparator.

According to this decision, the purple tomato is no longer subject to the regulations limiting the “movement of organisms modified or produced by genetic engineering”.

NPS is a spin-off from the John Innes Center and Sainsbury Laboratory, two world-renowned research institutes based at Norwich Research Park. The company was set up by Professors Cathie Martin and Jonathan Jones as the first GM crops company in the UK. His goal is to find ways to commercialize their research on plants with health-promoting compounds.

The decision follows a long wait from Professor Martin who developed the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato in 2008 by designing a precise genetic ‘switch’ derived from an edible flower.

“It’s fantastic, I never thought I would see this day. We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people who are excited to eat them,” she said. .

“The bittersweet thing is that the tomatoes will be on sale in America and not in the UK as well. But the positive side is that by focusing on home growers we will be consumer-oriented, and we can get the feedback and interest needed to develop other products,” she says.

Hundreds of people in the United States have already expressed interest through the Big Purple Tomato website to purchase tomatoes and seeds once they become available.

Sainsbury’s Professor Jonathan Jones said: ‘When Cathie and I founded NPS almost 15 years ago to bring genetically improved, health-promoting purple tomatoes, invented in the UK, to market, we didn’t never thought it would take this long to get regulatory approval. . It’s a red day for crop improvement, with the approval of a beneficial product by the USDA, after careful review of a detailed information package that describes its properties.

“We also look forward to sensible regulatory frameworks for these products in the UK and effective methods to protect our key crops from disease, using genetics instead of chemistry.”

Anthocyanins are antioxidants associated with a host of health benefits and are important for an anti-inflammatory diet.

Independent studies show that antioxidants and anthocyanins can reduce the incidence of cancer, improve cardiovascular function, and improve health and well-being. Lab studies also suggest that these healthy compounds may help relieve irritable bowel syndrome.

Nathan Pumplin, CEO of Norfolk Plant Sciences’ U.S. business, said, “This decision demonstrates how updates to APHIS’ regulatory framework will enable independent scientists and small businesses to grow and compete in the market with better products, to the benefit of consumers and climate. This decision is an important step, which brings us very close to a commercial launch of purple tomatoes. We are optimistic about the possibility of beginning a limited distribution of purple tomatoes in the United States in 2023.”

Although there are varieties of tomatoes with purple skin, they do not accumulate useful levels of these healthy compounds in the flesh of the fruit.

Although it is possible to use nutritional supplements to increase the intake of these compounds, there is growing evidence that they work much better when consumed in food.

Chronic diseases are a global problem, killing twice as many people as infectious diseases. The World Health Organization states that improving diet is one of the main changes people can make to help prevent these diseases.

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About Alma Ackerman

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