Cancer-Fighting Tomato Tops America's 2002 Best in Biotech

Consumers select top five biotech advances of the year

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The prospect of a cancer-fighting tomato has been named the top development in food biotechnology in 2002, according to a Roper survey of 1,000 randomly selected American adults.

When asked which publicly reported development in food biotechnology during 2002 was considered most valuable, two-thirds of respondents selected a research program that is enhancing tomatoes with a higher quantity of lycopene, an antioxidant believed to help fight cancer. The tomato is currently undergoing field tests.

Other top developments from more than 20 achievements by government and academic institutions include: sweet potatoes that can ward off a devastating plant virus; bananas and potatoes that contain a vaccine for a human virus associated with cervical cancer; produce that can stay fresh longer; and field crops that can thrive in extreme climates.

"It is these types of advances through biotechnology that can make our foods more functional and truly benefit the healthfulness of people over the long-term," said Mary Lee Chin, a registered dietitian who is a nationally recognized expert on nutrition trends and significant health and food issues. "As our society struggles with a growing range of health and nutritional issues, biotechnology is a tool that can help us grow foods that are better for our health."

Chin said food biotechnology is hitting its stride after 20 years of development and six years of commercially planted varieties that first emphasized managing pests, such as insects and weeds.

"This year's top advances in biotechnology represent a shift in the focus of plant biotechnology beyond pest management," Chin said. "More and more, biotechnology is moving toward products that will offer direct benefits to consumers, such as improved nutrient profiles and enhanced tastes."

After ranking the top developments in food biotechnology, six of every 10 respondents said they support the use of biotechnology in agriculture, while two out of every 10 were neutral and two out of every 10 expressed opposition. The study is considered to have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

The top five developments

#1 Cancer-fighting tomatoes. (65% of respondents ranked as "valuable") Field tests currently are underway for a new cancer-fighting tomato variety, which has been under development for a decade by Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. The new variety offers more than three times the amount of the antioxidant lycopene compared to conventional varieties. Lycopene is known to trap harmful molecules that damage human body tissue and could lower the risk of breast and prostate cancers, as well as coronary heart disease. The development was discovered when attempting to lengthen the shelf life of tomatoes.

#2 Virus-resistant sweet potatoes. (61% ranked as "valuable") A new sweet potato variety has built-in resistance to a devastating virus that consumes more than three-fourths of the annual harvest. Scientists at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications' AfriCenter in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other research institutions developed the improved sweet potato, a staple in many African countries. It is being field tested and likely will be commercially available in a few years to help in the fight against global hunger.

#3 Banana and potato vaccines. (56% ranked as "valuable") Bananas and potatoes have been developed that contain a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases and the cause of almost all cervical cancer in women. Researchers with the University of Rochester have tested varieties equipped with the vaccine and work is now entering the third stage of clinical evaluation.

#4 Fresher produce. (54% ranked as "valuable") A gene that produces a plant hormone that counteracts aging and keeps fruits and vegetables fresh longer was recently discovered at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Researchers currently are investing practical applications for the commercial food marketplace that would help lengthen the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and ensure they reach consumers.

#5 Hardier crops. (52% ranked as "valuable") Hardier varieties that would allow crops to flourish in extreme climates are being developed at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Researchers there have enhanced a thale cress plant, an herb from the mustard family, to have a higher tolerance to heat and light stress. This research translates into an opportunity to develop plants that could grow in extreme climates. Currently, this research is being examined for use in plants such as maize (corn), potatoes and other staple crops that are often grown for survival in the arid developing world.

The Council for Biotechnology Information commissioned the Roper survey to gauge consumer interest in new biotechnology developments. The organization provides science-based information about how biotechnology is providing more and better food while protecting the environment. To learn more about biotechnology and agriculture, visit the Council for Biotechnology Information's Web site at or call (202) 467-6565.

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