A Much Healthier Tomato

Tomatoes used to grow industrial quantities of compounds like resveratrol, genistein


What if you could reap the potential health benefits of drinking 50 bottles of red wine by eating a single tomato?

A new study from the UK found that tomato plants could be used to efficiently grow industrial-size quantities of beneficial natural compounds called phenylpropanoids.

These compounds include resveratrol, which is found in wine and has been found to extend life span in animal studies, and genistein, which is found in soybeans and may play a role in the prevention of certain cancers.

"Medicinal plants with high value are often difficult to grow and manage, and need very long cultivation times to produce the desired compounds," said lead study author Yang Zhang, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre in England, in a press release. "Our research provides a fantastic platform to quickly produce these valuable medicinal compounds in tomatoes."

For this study, Dr. Zhang and team looked at the effects of AtMYB12, a protein found in a flower native to Europe called Arabidopsis thaliana.

According to these researchers, AtMYB12 activates a broad set of genes involved in the metabolic pathways responsible for producing natural compounds of use to the plant. In other words, the protein acts like a tap to increase or decrease the production of natural compounds depending on how much the plant needs at a given time.

Dr. Zhang and team found that, when introduced into a tomato plant, AtMYB12 both increased the capacity of the plant to produce natural compounds and increased the amount of energy the plant used to produce them.

As a result, a single tomato was able to produce the same amount of resveratrol found in 50 bottles of red wine. A single tomato was also able to produce the amount of genistein found in 2.5 kilograms of tofu.

According to Dr. Zhang and team, because they are a high-yielding crop and require little maintenance, tomatoes could be an economical way to produce large quantities of healthy compounds like resveratrol and genistein for use in medicine and nutritional supplements.

This study was published Oct. 26 in the journal Nature Communications.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Major State Basic Research Development Program of China and the John Innes Foundation, among others, funded this research.

Study author Dr. Cathie Martin was an unpaid director of Norfolk Plant Sciences Ltd. Authors Dr. Eugenio Butelli and Dr. Martin were unpaid directors of Persephone Bio Ltd.