Researchers Seek Key to Increased Lycopene
By Kathryn Barry
October 13, 1999
Tomatoes with much higher levels of
lycopene may be available in the future if research pans out at the
Agricultural Research Service.
Lycopene, which gives tomatoes their bright red color, may help reduce the
risk of some cancers, according to epidemiological research at the
Harvard Medical School and
Harvard School of Public Health.
While working with tomato tissue cultures, ARS chemist Betty Ishida
uncovered clues about ripening and lycopene formation. As expected, the culture
developed into a tomato fruit. Surprisingly, the fruit's green outer leaves,
known as the calyx, also ripened into fruit-like tissue.
In this particular tomato variety, called VFNT Cherry, Ishida found that low
growing temperatures triggered ripening in non-fruit tissue. Because the fruit
was very dark red, she tested the lycopene content and found it to be 10 times
the amount in most commercial tomatoes.
Ishida and colleagues are looking for the genes activated to increase
lycopene production. Then they hope to activate the genes in commercial
A story about this research appears in the October issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine
and on the web at:
ARS is the lead scientific agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Betty
Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit, ARS
Western Regional Research Center, Albany,
Calif., phone (510) 559-5726, fax (510) 559-8777,