Israeli researchers say they have genetically engineered tomatoes to give hints of lemon and rose aromas that have done well in testing on volunteers.
The transgenic tomato includes a gene from a variety of lemon basil, Ocimum basilicum, that produces an aroma-making enzyme called geraniol synthase, Efraim Lewinsohn of Newe Yaar Research Center and colleagues report.
A panel of 82 people have tested the experimental fruit against unmodified counterparts.
Nearly all of them were able to detect novel aromas, which the testers variously described as "perfume," "rose," "geranium" and "lemongrass."
When put to the taste, the GM tomatoes were preferred by 49 members of the panel, while 29 preferred unmodified tomatoes and four expressed no preference.
The GM tomatoes have only a light red color, though, because they have only half as much lycopene as conventional tomatoes. In addition to conferring a bright blush to tomatoes, lycopene is an antioxidant, a compound credited with health-giving qualities.
Offsetting the low levels of lycopene are higher levels of compounds called volatile terpenoids, which possess antimicroial, pesticidal and antifungal qualities, so the GM tomato may have longer shelf life and need less pesticide to grow, Lewinsohn contends.
The team believes that other crops and flowers that, like tomatoes, produce carotenoids, could also be engineered to change their smell and taste.
The first genetically-modified tomato, the so-called FlavrSavr, hit the US market in 1994. It had a modified gene that was involved in fruit softening, meaning that the tomato could be left to ripen on the vine and have a longer shelf life.
FlavrSavr was eventually withdrawn because of disappointing sales.
Today, no genetically modified tomatoes are being commercially grown in the United States, according to (www.gmo-compass.org), a European Commission-backed website for information about GM crops.
Fresh GM tomatoes have never gone in sale in Europe and other markets where there are worries about the environmental and health impact from transgenic food.
The Israeli paper is published online on Sunday by Nature Biotechnology, part of the Nature group of science journals.
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