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Researchers Seek Key to Increased Lycopene in Tomato

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
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 varieties.

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 Ishida, Process Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit, ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif., phone (510) 559-5726, fax (510) 559-8777,

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