Tomatoes With Staying Power
September 5, 2000
Researchers with the Agricultural
Research Service and Purdue University
have found a way to slow down tomato ripening and improve tomatoes
If the season is right, a brilliant-red tomato may be sitting on the table
of ARS plant physiologist Autar K. Mattoo. Although it looks like its
just been just picked off the vine, its probably one of his genetically
enhanced tomatoes thats been sitting there for weeks.
Mattoo and his collaborators developed a novel way of slowing down tomato
ripening by introducing a yeast gene that controls this function in the fruit.
Living cells, including those of plants, contain genes that control many
functions. Some genes are turned on only at a certain developmental
stage or in response to an environmental cue. At other times, these genes are
turned off. Scientists can use genetic engineering technology to
modify these genes to turn them on or off at any particular time.
The new transgenic tomatoes have a lycopene content 2.5 times higher than
non-transgenic tomatoes. Lycopene is a carotenoid that may aid in preventing
early blindness in children, preventing cancer and enhancing cardiovascular
Traditional breeding allows transfer of hundreds of genes in a relatively
random manner--good or bad traits are sometimes haphazardly passed along to the
new plant. With genetically enhanced plants, scientists know exactly
whats going into the plant and how to monitor it.
Before the new tomato can be made available as a food, it will undergo years
of rigorous testing for health and environmental safety.
More information on this research appears in the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
The scientists developed the transgenic tomatoes as part of a nationwide
effort in horticultural
research at ARS, the chief scientific agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more
information, see the list of ARS national programs in "Crop Production,
Product Value, and Safety" at:
Scientific contact: Autar K. Mattoo,
Laboratory, Beltsville, Md.; phone (301) 504-7380, fax (301) 504-5555,