Slice Up a Purple Tomato


The standard tomato could be looking a little different in the near future. Turning from red to purple, a new, genetically modified tomato may be hitting the grocery market stands to shake up the game.

The USDA has recently approved a genetically modified purple tomato, marking a clear path for the unique fruit to be sold in American stores next year. “From a plant pest risk perspective, this plant may be safely grown and used in breeding,” the agency said in a news release.

The tomato was created by a team of scientists, including British biochemist Cathie Martin, who has worked on pigment production in flowers for over 20 years. “I wanted to start projects where we could look and see whether there were health benefits for this particular group of pigments,” she said.

Funding was put in place to engineer purple tomatoes that were rich in anthocyanins, hoping to “increase the antioxidant capacity” of the fruits. And it worked. Apparently, the purple tomato has some serious health benefits and a longer shelf life than garden variety red tomatoes.

Martin said there are “many explanations” as to why anthocyanin-rich tomatoes may have health benefits. “It’s not like a drug, where there’s a single target. It’s about them having antioxidant capacity. It also may influence the composition of the microbiome, so it’s better able to deal with digestion of other nutrients,” she said.

To engineer the purple tomatoes, scientists used transcription factors from snapdragons to trigger the tomatoes to produce more anthocyanin, creating a vibrant purple color.

Martin established a spinout company, Norfolk Plant Sciences, to bring the purple tomatoes to market. The company will launch limited test markets in 2023 to identify which type of consumers are interested in the purple fruit once the tomato is FDA approved.


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