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Purple GMO tomato now available in the US

As home gardeners in the US page through seed catalogs and pick out their favorite heirlooms, there's a new seed that has never been available to them before a tomato the color of a concord grape with plum-colored flesh. It looks otherworldly, maybe Photoshopped. But it's not.

This nightshade is purple because its creators at Norfolk Plant Sciences worked for about 20 years to hack color genes from a snapdragon flower into the plant. The genes not only provide pigment but also high levels of anthocyanin, a health-promoting compound.

This dusky fruit, named the Purple Tomato, is the first genetically modified food crop to be directly marketed to home gardeners – the seeds went on sale Saturday. Last year, a handful of small farmers started growing and selling the tomatoes, but until now, genetically modified foods were generally only available to commercial producers in the US.

By selling directly to gardeners, Norfolk hopes to get Americans to change their perceptions of GMO foods. A 2020 Pew Research study showed that most Americans see GMOs as worse for their health than a food that has no genetic modification, and just 7% see them as healthier than other foods.

"We aim to show with this product and with this company that there's a lot of benefits that can go to consumers through biotechnology, better taste, better nutrition as prime examples," says Nathan Pumplin, CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce, a subsidiary of Norfolk Plant Sciences.

A disease-fighting tomato
The leading scientist behind the Purple Tomato is Cathie Martin, a biochemist who trained at the University of Cambridge. About 20 years ago, she set out to create a transgenic tomato using DNA from another unrelated organism, in this case, a purple snapdragon, which is an edible flower.

The goal was to develop a tomato with high levels of anthocyanins, the compounds that give blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and purple cabbage their color and their status as superfoods.

Anthocyanins have been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. They're antioxidants, which can help neutralize unstable molecules in the body that can damage healthy cells and are linked with aging and disease.

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