Genetically Modified Tomatoes Can Last 45 Days on the Shelf

By Smriti Rao | February 2, 2010 5:14 pm

tomatoIf you were looking to make tomatoes last longer in your kitchen, then researchers in India might have the answer. Scientists at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) in New Delhi have found that by suppressing two enzymes (alpha-Man and beta-Hex) associated with ripening, they could push tomatoes to last close to 45 days before they turned mushy. Their research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal.

The tomatoes in which the alpha-Man enzyme was suppressed were 2.5 times firmer than conventional tomatoes, while those lacking in beta-Hex were two times firmer [Moneycontrol]. The genetically modified (GM) tomatoes also survived for days without refrigeration, which scientists say is great news for farmers in developing nations; India, for example, loses almost 40 percent of its annual produce of fruits and vegetables to spoilage during transportation.

The genetically-modified tomato would have to pass a series of field trials, including animal safety tests, before it can be considered for commercial cultivation. The NIPGR scientists say the process could take three years, perhaps longer [The Telegraph]. The researchers have also been reported as saying they will consider the same technique to try and make fruits like papayas and bananas last longer. However, GM tomatoes and fruits would likely encounter stiff resistance from consumers who don’t want food they perceive as unnatural in the grocery stores. Also, no word from scientists on how their GM tomatoes taste.

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Image: iStockphoto

  • Jay Fox

    Ah, the Flavr-Savr revisited! As I recall, they could not get the rats to eat them voluntarily. They could not get consumers to purchase them voluntarily. They eventually did rot, right there in the grocer’s displays.

    Thus began the battle to hide frankenfoods in the food supply. Laws were lobbied and passed allowing this stuff into the food supply unlabeled. Since they could not get us to voluntarily buy this stuff, they had to hide it, all the while insisting on it’s safety.

    The very fact that these “foods” must be hidden in order to get us to consume them suggests that there could be an issue concerning safety. Add to that Monsanto’s efforts to hide and cover up their own test results, and their refusal to supply products for independent analysis, and no wonder people are suspicious.

    Produce them if you must. Label them for what they are. Let the consumers decide fairly for themselves. And if the public doesn’t buy it, well, you gambled and lost. Don’t force feed us your mistakes.

  • deane25

    45 days. oh, yuch! I’ll be growing my own heirlooms again this summer, and canning the extras. These scientists should be fed a strict diet of their own GM food for six months, and then undergo a battery of genetic, hormonal, blood tests before anyone thinks of testing the poor animals.

  • Aussie Amy

    You seem to be missing the point that GM foods could potentially help solve problems such as food shortages and malnutrition. I don’t see why people should have a problem with eating something that is 45 days old, if it still tastes fine and has the same nutritional value.

    In fact, everything you eat today is actually a genetically modified food. The domestication of plants and animals was not a natural process. It was a result of humans picking for characteristics they found desirable and dramatically altered the genetic makeup of the subjects of this (unnatural!) selection. Today’s method of genetic modification simply speeds up a process that would otherwise have taken decades or centuries to complete.

    I don’t agree with the practice of ‘hiding’ GM foods from consumers but I can understand why this may have been done. If scientists are able to create a food that has a desirable feature (be that a longer shelf life, an ability to withstand drought or flood, or a greater nutritional value) and complete the necessary testing to show that the GM food is safe for consumption (and tastes good!) then you would expect that once it reaches the shelves, people would be willing to purchase them. This aparently is not the case. As Jay Fox says, frankenfoods (not the most flattering name) will sit there and rot. But what can the argument against GM foods be if all the proper procedures have been followed in creating such foods?

    GM foods have received quite a bit of bad PR (just look at the name frakenfoods!) and certainly ‘hiding’ GM foods from consumers has created an atmosphere of distrust. This seems to have made a number of people philosophically opposed to the idea of GM foods, no matter how safe they are, how good they taste or how much benefit they could be to humans. What is needed is for consumers to have greater access to information about GM foods. There should be emphasis on what the intended benefits of these foods would be (i.e. why there is a need for them) and also emphasis on the research that has been put into ensuring these foods are safe. If people were able to more readily access this sort of information, they may be more open to trying GM foods. A PR campaign putting GM foods in a positive light would not go astray either (at the very least, they could be described as no more unnatural than domesticated foods).

  • Steven

    To Aussie Amy. I agree, a better education of what’s involved in the production of GM foods is needed( and the benefits they bring) and then maybe the public would be more willing to give these products the fair try that they deserve.

  • Jay Fox

    What happened in the past, while it might be technically referred to as Genetic Engineering, was simply selective breeding of existing foodcrops. Elements or genetic material from other organisms were never introduced. It is the practice of introducing foreign materials to the organisms that have people justifiably up in arms.

    I do not wish to eat a product that has poison factories inserted directly into the plant’s genome, as is the case with anything that has the Bt TOXIN built into it. Plants modified to tolerate powerful weed killers now actually require MORE weed killer to combat the resistant weeds that have been inadvertently created. Exactly how is that helping? And is whatever that confers that poison resistance really safe for human consumption? Is there a convincing study from independent sources?

    Remember Star-Link corn? Yeah, they tested that and found out it was not safe. Rather than destroy it, they tried to keep it separate from real corn and feed it to cattle. Now, I gotta ask, if you are what you eat, then is not a cow what it eats? If it is not safe for humans, how could it possibly be considered safe to feed to the cattle we will then eat? And then later it was shown eventually that we cannot keep that stuff separate from the real food, and real people died as a result.

    Suppressing a gene or two within an organism might be safe, depending on how that is actually accomplished. Inserting genetic material willy-nilly into any organism can and does have unintended results along with the desired traits. ANYTHING so modified should be studied openly, with results available to all, and if after all that it still is deemed safe, labeled for what it is. Anything less is at least dishonest, and at most profiteering by big corporations more interested in recovering costs and generating profits than they are in solving world hunger.

  • Mike

    I am not afraid of them, I just bet they will taste nasty and be hard…most tomatoes are bad now anyway. Same with strawberries…most are 1/2 white, and don’t rippen well and rarely taste sweet anymore.

    I think our current distributions patters are the real problems – having to pick things too early and ship far and they just don’t come out that good. Discover Magazine ran an article several years ago on some MIT guys (I think) who designed these high rises that could grow all the fresh fruit and veggies to help supply a city and would mostly run on wind and solar and capture rain water. They could grow even during a NYC winter, supplying “local” fresh produce that does not need to be picked green and hard and flown to the US from Chile. I think it would be a great idea, creating jobs, pumping out fresh 02 into the air…but have never heard anything about them again.

  • Aussie Amy

    Would you not agree that it is possible for two distinct organisms to have the same gene as a result of mutation (this is the usual process for new genes to come into existance in organisms) and then for those genes to become pronounced due to selective breeding? If one organism were to develop the gene first, why should introducing this ‘foreign material’ to the other organism be an issue when it is quite possible that it might develop the gene on its own due to mutation- it may in fact already have done so but that gene did not have an advantage at the time and so did not become dominant.

    Bt Toxins occur in a Bacillus normally found on plants (apart from in the guts of the insects they target) so it makes little difference to me whether I ingest them on the outside or the inside of the plant. In some GM crops, the BT toxin is produced primarily in the stem which is usually not consumed by humans. Bt Toxins are also considered harmless to wildlife (apart from the insects they are intended to kill of course) and humans- the insectides produced from this toxin are even used in organic farming. This is because Bt Toxins target specific receptors that are only found on cells in the guts of certain insects. Humans do not have these cells in their guts so the toxins are not activated during human digestion.

    As for the StarLink Corn fiasco, they decided not to market it for human consumption not because the Bt Toxin used would activate but because that particular protein was digested less rapidly than other Bt varieties and they were concerned a small part of the population might have an allergic reaction to its extended presence in the digestive system. Instead, as you say, this corn was sold as cattle feed. Cows also do not have the required cells in their gut to activate the Bt Toxin so there is no problem for humans consuming the meat of cattle that have ingested this corn. This corn did somehow make it into the food for human consumption and there were 28 claims of an allergic reaction after this became known. A study performed by the US Centres for Disease Control and a subsequent review by another body both found the allergic reactions to be unrelated. Certainly no deaths have been attributed to StarLink. The company involved in the production of StarLink withdrew all the varieties of this corn in spite of this finding.

    I don’t think researches are out there inserting genes ‘willy-nilly’ (they normally have a specific result in mind) and the years of testing required to confirm the safety of GM foods is there to study what, if any, unintended results there may be. I do completely agree that there should be open access to these data and that the public should be informed if there are GM foods out there for consumption, so they can make an informed decision.

  • Merijn

    Can’t we try it on human people :P. Maybe we can live longer :O.

  • Doc Ryans blows

    Besides Jays point, and a counter to Aussie Annies bleeding bleating heart, there’s too dam_ed many of us on this planet!

    Food shortages means there are people surpluses. We are doing nothing to adress our planetary birthrate (except China, where they just abort females..), yet Gates just puked out 10 bil. for global vaccinations, Gmo’s can grow in blown sand, we are running out of fresh air and water, and our gene pool is withering away like a gangrenous hoo-ha in the sun.

    Thankfully poor nations still have natural selection for now. Racist crackers from red states will have to fly in Sudanese sperm just to keep their name alive if rates of Autism and sterility continue to climb here. Today’s destitute uninfected Somali girl is tomorrows Belle of the Ball.

  • Magdalena Terlecka

    That’s ridiculous.. turning to GM foods because of food shortages? Maybe wealthier countries should stop wasting food and we wouldn’t have issues with food shortages. I work at a restaurant and I see the amount of food people leave on their plates, which obviously has to be thrown out. I’m not suggesting to eat everything even if you’re already full. If you don’t finish your meal you can take it home in a container and have it later. Little things like this would make a huge difference.

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  • Karin

    GM foods are not made to solve an illusory food shortage. They are produced to increase profits. Have a look in the dumpster behind your grocery store and see what you think about a food shortage.

  • Eva

    Has anyone noticed the problem of tomato seeds sprouting inside the tomato. The tomatoes of today are made to sit around looking fresh while they rot and the seeds inside just start spouting inside the tomato if they are left out on the counter. Some people actually have pictures on the web of the tomatoes that they have kept to see what will happen and they look gross, like a strawberry jar. This can’t be healthy for people to eat.


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