Sanatech's sedative tomato is on the market already; Cathie Martin's purple tomato may follow
Sanatech's CRISPR gene-edited tomato engineered to contain higher levels of a sedative substance, GABA, is being sold on the open market in Japan. While GABA is reportedly viewed as a health-promoting substance in Japan, findings in studies are mixed and there are no studies at all showing that eating the gene-edited tomato has health benefits or is even safe.
In an article about the development, the journal Nature Biotechnology quotes Maarten Jongsma, a molecular cell biologist at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, who studies the effects of plant compounds on human nutrition, as saying "There’s no consensus" on the health benefits of consuming GABA. Nor is there evidence that it can cross the blood–brain barrier and reach the central nervous system, adds Renger Witkamp, a nutrition scientist also at Wageningen.
Nature Biotechnology notes, "Sanatech has been careful not to claim that its tomatoes therapeutically lower blood pressure and promote relaxation. Instead, the company implies it, by advertising that consuming GABA, generally, can achieve these effects and that its tomatoes contain high levels of GABA. This has raised some eyebrows in the research community, given the paucity of evidence supporting GABA as a health supplement."
The article also reports on news regarding the purple tomato developed by Cathie Martin at the John Innes Centre in the UK using older-style transgenic GM. Martin says she expects a regulatory decision from the USDA by the end of February for her purple tomatoes. Martin's targeting of the US is no surprise, given the weak regulation of GM crops in that country.
Like Sanatech, Martin plans to initially market her GM tomatoes directly to the public. Nature Biotechnology reports that she has not conducted human intervention studies comparing the health effects of high-anthocyanin and conventional tomatoes, and does not plan to make health benefit claims. But this means little, as the John Innes Centre and the media have been hyping the supposedly cancer-fighting qualities of the tomatoes over several years, despite warnings from health organisations that these claims are not supported by evidence.
GMWatch notes that Martin's tomatoes, like the high-GABA ones, have also not been safety tested in animals or humans.
Report: Claire Robinson