The food we eat – from corn to cattle – has been domestically modified for thousands of years. Today scientists, agronomists and geneticists are taking the next step: improving our food from the inside out. Though some may resist GM foods and doubt their long-term safety, plans are afoot to expand the roster of fine-tuned fruits & veggies even further. Here are 10 more of the most intriguing GM fruits & vegetables ever to drop off the vine.
Anti-Cancer Purple Tomatoes
Fancy a little flower with your tomatoes? Not flour, flower – as in snapdragons. Researchers found that by injecting genes from snapdragon flowers into normal red tomatoes, the latter produced an increased amount of the pigment anthocyanin. Besides adding deep reddish and bluish tonnes to fruits like cranberries and blackberries, anthocyanin is a potent anti-oxidant that shows promise in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, easing the symptoms of diabetes and relieving a number of age-related illnesses. Should human trials pan out, you may be seeing healthy purple pizza on the menu some day!
Allergic to tomatoes? It’s more likely than you think – up to 16 percent of people are sensitive to tomatoes, adding extra complications to life in a world of free-flowing ketchup, tomato sauce and burgers with the works. It’s not tomatoes themselves that are at fault, it’s a small protein called Profilin. By silencing two genes responsible for Profilin production in tomatoes, scientists can create non-allergenic fruit that are otherwise completely normal in taste, texture and appearance.
Now here’s a fun fact we bet you didn’t know: Half of all commercial papayas grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist the Papaya Ring Virus. While GM papayas may not be any healthier for you or I, they HAVE saved the American papaya industry, which was nearly wiped out by the onset of this virus in the 1990s. The use of GM papayas does have one noteworthy consequence: genetically modified papayas are not allowed into Japan, the industry’s largest export market. Only non-GM fruit is sold to Japan; the rest is sold domestically.
Golden Rice: Kids Can See The Difference
While rice is technically a grain, genetically engineered Golden Rice shares something with its vegetable cousins: a gene that produces Vitamin A, necessary to keep eyes healthy. The precursor to Vitamin A is beta-carotene which is found in yellow and orange vegetables like squash and carrots. It’s estimated that widespread consumption of Golden Rice, which will become available to farmers in 2011, will prevent blindness in as many as 500,000 children.
Yes, We Have No Non-GM Bananas
There’s a race going on – and if we lose it, we’ll also lose our bananas. Every last one. The culprit is Panama Disease, an incurable fusarium blight that has roared through Asian banana plantations and is poised to strike across the ocean to Latin America. The original export banana, known as “Big Mike”, was wiped out by PD and growers replaced it with the much more resistant Cavendish variety that originated in Vietnam. Now a new variant of Panama Disease has sprung up and the Cavendish looks to be going the way of Big Mike… unless scientists can engineer the fruit to fight the blight. To that end, researchers are looking at genes from an Indonesian wild banana from Indonesia that is resistant to PD To get the genes into commercial bananas, the genes are first implanted in a type of bacteria that is used to infect banana plants.
(image via: Freaking News)
If you think there’s something fishy about that ripe, juicy strawberry you just bit into, you could be right. Scientists have been experimenting with so-called “anti-freeze genes” found in cold water fish like Sea Flounder and Arctic Char. When implanted into fruits and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries, the gene acts to makes the plant in question more resistant to freezing in bad weather. The strawberries don’t actually taste fishy… though one imagines the flavor would be somewhat like fruit clamato. Yum!
Peaches & Cream Corn is familiar to most of us but it’s understood that the corn only looks like fruit & milk; it’s not made from it. Now there’s a new type of corn that does incorporate the genes of foreign plants – not for good taste, but for a good cause. Multivitamin corn: it tastes good and it’s good for you! Scientists from Spain and Germany used genetic engineering techniques to cause South African elite white corn to produce three types of vitamins (Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Folic Acid) within its kernels. Beta Carotene, found naturally in carrots and squash, tints the kernels a curious shade of orange.
Viral Vegetable Marketing
(image via: UC, California Agriculture)
Studies conducted at the University of California have uncovered a novel way of using genetic engineering. In one case, zucchini prone to infection by viral diseases were able to not only survive, but thrive thanks to a gene taken from the offending virus which was implanted into the zucchini plant. The addition of only a single gene from the virus made a huge difference – note the rich, green color of the genetically modified plants above right compared with their unprotected brothers on the left.
Apple Cinnamon Apples?
(image via: WIRED)
Like cinnamon on your apples? How about IN them? That’s what you get with Cinna-Del, a genetically modified apple from agri-giant Monsanto that tastes sweet and cinnamony with every bite. Not to worry though, both the image and the concept of Cinna-Del apples are but a figment of some graphic artist’s imagination… for now.
Frankenfruits: Viral Veggies We’d (Not) Like To See
(image via: Freaking News)
It seems that when it comes to genetic modification, anything’s possible. The phab photoshoppers over at Freaking News took this particular ball and decided to run with it… some of these crazy combos look rather tasty!
With that last note in mind and knowing the capabilities of genetic researchers, it seems likely we may see genetically modified fruits & veggies even beyond our imaginations. Even though much GM research has gone towards improving the hardiness and nutritive value of our foods, one must recall an old TV margarine commercial in which it is said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”