Diet & Nutrition

Scientists Produce Resveratrol in Tomatoes

As a result of research done at the John Innes Centre in the UK, one tomato can provide as much Resveratrol as fifty bottles of red wine. One tomato has also produced the amount of Genistein found in 5 ½ pounds of tofu.  Bot of these compounds are phenylpropanoids. Resveratrol has been reported to extend lifespan in animal studies. Genistein is the compound found in soybeans that has been suggested to play a role in prevention of steroid-hormone related cancers, particularly breast cancer. The paper was published in Nature Communications on Oct. 26th 2015.

The research was led by Dr. Yang Zhang and Dr. Eugenio Butelli working in Professor Cathie Martin’s lab  Drs. Zhang and Butelli have been studying the effect of a protein called AtMYB12 which is found in Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering plant native to Eurasia.

A release from the John Innes Centre reports that the protein AtMYB12 activates a broad set of genes involved in metabolic pathways responsible for producing natural compounds of use to the plant. The protein acts something like a tap to increase or reduce the production of natural compounds depending on how much of the protein is present.

What was interesting about the effect of introducing this protein into a tomato plant was how it acted both to increase the capacity of the plant to produce natural compounds (by activating phenylpropanoid production) and to influence the amount of energy and carbon the plant dedicated to producing these natural compounds. In response to the influence of the atmyb12 protein, tomato plants began to create more phenylpropanoids and flavanoids and to devote more of energy to doing this in fruit.

Introducing both AtMYB12 and genes from plants encoding enzymes specific for making Resveratrol in grapes and Genistein in legumes, resulted in tomatoes that could produce as much as 80mg of novel compound per gram of dry weight.  This showed that industrial scale up is possible.

Tomatoes are a high yielding crop — producing up to 500 tons per hectare in countries delivering the highest yields (FAOSTAT 2013) and require relatively few inputs, therefore production of valuable compounds like Resveratrol or Genistein in tomatoes could be a more economical way of producing them than relying on artificial synthesis in a lab or extracting them in tiny quantities from traditional plant sources such as grapes and soybeans. The tomatoes can be harvested and juiced and the valuable compounds can be extracted from the juice. The tomatoes themselves could potentially become the source of increased nutritional or medicinal benefit.