With Whole Foods’ plans to boycott Chobani yogurts and the recent ballot initiative 522 (the campaign to label GMOs) in Washington, there’s no denying that genetically modifying foods has been receiving an onslaught of negative attention as of late. Why all the fuss? No one seems to agree on whether or not GMOs are actually harmful. Thanks to a group of British scientists, there may be an argument that genetic engineering can be used for good.

LA Weekly reports that scientists are working on developing a dark purple tomato modified to contain high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant chemical found in blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries. While tomatoes naturally generate their own anthocyanins, genes from snapdragon flowers are added to intensify the production. According to the John Innes Centre, a research center affiliated with the project, anthocyanins have the potential to protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, as well as age-related degenerative diseases.

To test the prospect of the tomatoes in aiding cancer, 20 cancer-prone mice were fed with a diet that included 10% powder from the tomatoes. Other groups of mice were fed no tomatoes and red tomatoes. The results? Mice who ate the tomato powder tended to live an average of 30% longer than their non tomato/red tomato counterparts.

The first tomato crop is currently being grown in Canada, due to strict anti-GMO regulations in the UK, and it will bring about 2,000 liters of tomato juice—1,200 of which will be sent to the John Innes Centre in Norwich to be further tested.

The research is still in its preliminary stages, and bringing the tomato to US consumers will require heavy regulations before being approved. The next stages of research will require testing human volunteers.

Photo: John Innes Centre

Photo: John Innes Centre

[via LA Weekly]