Shortly after my conversion from anti-GMO blogger to pro-science observer and rational thinker, I ran a series in Sleuth4Health called The Benevolent side of GMOs in which I highlighted spedific GMOs, science, and farming practices that I found to be beneficial to mankind. Some examples are the Arctic Apple, Simplot Potato, Hawaian Papaya, Golden Rice. 
Today my post focuses on some pretty nifty tomatoes. Add them to the list of benevolent GMOs, because this could and hopefully will be the future of nutrition.
Now, before I continue with this post, I know there are many readers who will immediately take the following stance:
What about natural tomatoes?
Isn’t what nature makes preferable?
Can’t we just leave tomatoes alone?
Why should they be genetically engineered at all?
My answer is this: when it comes to growing food, I am more and more convinced as I continue to learn that there is no such thing as natural. If we left everything natural we’d be desperate and starving, if we even lived this long. Man has tweaked the breeding of plants for as long as he’s been eating them – for economy, variety -for survival. We all benefit from the myriad of ways we can vary plant species, from hybridization to full on engineering in a lab. Tomatoes are no different.
According to wiki, the first tomatoes found on the planet were no where even close to the variety we have today. In the South American Andes for example, the first tomatoes were cherry sized and likely yellow. Further north in Central America, a larger, lumpier fruit mutated from a smoother, smaller fruit. Evidence points to this mutation as the likely ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes. Having such a myriad of different types of tomatoes to choose from nowadays is clearly a good thing, but folks, this ample choice didn’t just happen naturally. Thousands of years of plant breeding got tomatoes to where they are today.
Science Really Can Save Us
I once heard a scientist say that nature is trying to kill us and science will save us. When I first heard that expression and allowed it to waft through my brain, I was so disturbed by it, angry even, that I wanted to punch the person who had the audacity to say such a thing. Now, after all the reading I’ve done about GMOs, about evolution and related topics, I unequivocally believe that statement to be true. The only reason ‘nature’ seems to favor our human food needs is because we have made it so by watchful study, repetition, experimentation, careful maintenance of what works and then speculation about and innovation regarding what could likely work better.
So now back to tomatoes. At the John Innes Centre, a non-profit research organization in the UK, some pretty exciting stuff is happening with tomato research and development. Professor Cathie Martin and Dr. Eugenio Butelli were recently honored by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Counsel) with the “most promising innovator award 2014” for their work developing high levels of beneficial compounds in four types of tomatoes.
Here is a brief description of the four varieties:
1. The “purple tomato” contains the same level of anthocyanins as half a basket of blueberries. The anthocyanins are what give blueberries their pigment and are credited with being high in anti-oxidants.
2. The large orange tomato weighs 100g and just one has the same amount of a beneficial compound as 27 bottles of pinot noir!
3. The yellow fruit variety contains genistein which is also present in soy products and equals what is present in a 150g block of tofu.
4. The fourth variety contains quercetin and kaempferol, health-promoting compounds commonly found in capers, radishes, onions and watercress.
The John Innes Centre (JIC) website offers the following additional description of the tomatoes:
The bioactive compounds selected are known to offer protection against inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Martin and Eugenio Butelli’s research is helping to uncover how the protective mechanisms work and which compounds are most effective. The tomato products could be used to complement medicines in the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases and obesity.
The purple tomatoes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects compared to regular ones and to slow the progression of soft-tissue carcinoma in cancer-prone mice. They also have double the shelf life.
Professor Martin adds:
The tomato varieties we have developed offer a new way to compare the protective effects that specific bioactive molecules can exert on the development of chronic diseases.
Crop Biotech Update says of the tomatoes:
The bioactive compounds present in the tomato varieties are known to offer protection against inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Thus, the research will help elucidate how the protective mechanisms function and which compounds are most helpful for the body.
Paul Carver of New Energy Farms in Ontario, Canada, where the tomatoes are being grown under glass, says:
The most amazing thing is the potential to supply an expensive compound from nature more economically to large markets for food, livestock feed, cosmetics, food colourings and even pharmaceuticals.
Imagine the Possibilities!
Now, I find this all not only fascinating, but very promising for nutrition and health needs in the future. This could be just the beginning of any number of ways plants can be engineered for not only superior nutritive value but perhaps more importantly, a role in disease prevention.
Imagine the possibilites! For mother earth’s exploding populations. Third world countries. Starving people. Sick people. Poor people. All people.
Business Model Can Show Direct Benefit to the Consumer
The uniqueness and promise of these tomatoes also present an innovative business model which can be used to navigate the regulatory hurdles associated with genetic modification. That is good news for all of biotechnology because at this point, the nay-sayers, activists, well-meaning politicians, lobbyists, and other groups who, perhaps unknowingly, use both hack science to invent safety issues and fear to influence hoards of unsuspecting consumers – all of these and more are what holds this technology back.
The technology itself? It needs room and opportunity to grow and develop. Like any other research. Any other technology. Instead, it has been most unfairly vilified and I find that very sad and counterproductive.
Here is a youtube video titled “Bumper Harvest for GM Purple Tomatoes”
Source and Related Articles:
Top Tomatoes Secure “Most Promising Innovator Award”/JIC
Healthful Tomatoes Developers Win Most Promising Innovator 2014 Award/Crop Biotech Update
GM Purple Tomatoes Could Actually Be Good For You/Smithsonian
Bumper Harvest for GM Purple Tomatoes/JIC Website/JIC Website
The Possible Health Benefits of Anthocyanin Pigments and Polyphenolics/Linus Pauling Institute
 I unintentionally excluded a post about Golden Rice from the original series but covered it later on my blog. See article here. Golden Rice in fact deserves top honors in the benevolence department.
Purple tomato photo at top is a still shot taken from video