• Tuesday, Aug 03, 2021
  • Last Update : 07:49 pm

Japan launches world’s first gene-edited tomato

  • Published at 09:16 am March 30th, 2021
High GABA tomato - Collected
The Sicilian Rogue High GABA tomato, developed by Japan's Sanatech Seed, is said to help lower blood pressure Collected

Rich with amino acid, the new variety is expected to help lower blood pressure; 5,000 home gardeners in Japan will grow the tomato in May this year

Japan has launched a tomato variety rich with amino acid that it says will help lower blood pressure.

Sicilian Rouge High GABA Tomato – touted to be the world’s first direct consumption gene-edited tomato – was launched in Japan recently by Sanatech Seed, a start-up emerged from the University of Tsukuba, reports media in Japan and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

What attracted the scientific fraternity more is the Japanese government’s approach towards the new food. Japan decided not to regulate the gene-edited tomato like it does in the cases of GM (genetically modified) products.

Sanatech Seed's Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomato was developed using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. The tomato contains high levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid believed to aid relaxation and help lower blood pressure.

According to Shimpei Takeshita, president of Sanatech Seed and chief innovation officer of Pioneer EcoScience, the exclusive distributor of the tomato, it contains four to five times more GABA than a regular tomato.

“This tomato represents an easy and realistic way in which consumers can improve their daily diet,” he told delegates during a session on how to breed better tomatoes at this year’s Global Tomato Congress held on March 16.

CRISPR-Cas9 scissors – one of gene technology’s sharpest tools – was jointly discovered by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna, the recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.

Japan’s launching of gene-edited tomatoes comes at a time when scientists in Bangladesh are also at an advanced stage of developing a transgenic tomato variety that can effectively fight mosaic virus.

Mosaic virus is a plant pathogenic virus found worldwide and affects tomatoes and many other plants.
Dr Md Jahangir Hossain, who coordinates biotech brinjal and late blight-resistant potato project in Bangladesh, welcomed new varietal development in tomato in Japan and hoped that Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur would be successful in its pursuit to develop a virus resistant tomato variety.

Takeshita said in Japan they chose the Sicilian Rouge variety and the GABA trait for their high level of consumer acceptance. "Sicilian Rouge is a popular tomato, and consumers are already used to buying other products with a high GABA content, so we felt it was important to introduce them to the technology in a way that was already familiar to them."

In a statement, the International Seed Federation (ISF) also welcomed the release saying that it is an important step in the implementation of the Japanese policy on gene editing, providing opportunities for the seed sector to continue its efforts on plant breeding innovation to contribute to sustainable food systems.

Prior to going for full commercialization of the new tomato variety, Sanatech Seed invited applications from home gardeners who wanted to cultivate it in the first season.

It said some 5,000 home gardeners would be able to grow their seedlings from mid-May onwards, and enjoy the world’s first high GABA tomatoes at the beginning of July.

“We will keep you updated on the status of the cultivation of Sicilian Rouge High GABA and the feedback of the monitors through our blog and social network,” Sanatech announced on its website.

Sanatech said the variety is the first of several it plans to develop with enhanced nutritional benefits.

There have been widespread marketing campaigns in Japan to educate consumers about the difference between GMOs and gene-edited crops, so there is a higher level of understanding and acceptance of these products than in other parts of the world.

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