Finally, a genetically-modified food for the rest of us.
The first food marketed as genetically-modified (the overwhelming majority of such foods are not so labeled) was a tomato called the Flavr Savr introduced in 1993. Even though consumers said they liked the taste, the Flavr Savr bombed in the grocery store, and ever since almost all genetically-engineered crops (or Frankenfoods, as some opponents call them) have aimed to appeal to farmers, not consumers. The “transgenic” foods contain genes for traits such as tolerance to herbicides (so farmers can soak their fields in the poisons, making weed control easier) and resistance to insects (so they can use fewer insecticides to manage infestations). Not surprisingly, consumers leery of genetically-modified (GM) foods wondered, what’s in it for us?
Scientists in Israel have an answer. Writing in the current issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, Efraim Lewinsohn and colleagues slipped a gene called Ocimum basilicum geraniol synthase into tomato seeds. The gene is a bit of an alchemist, turning one of the tomato’s biochemicals into another. The newly-formed compound, called geraniol, has “an intense rose scent,” the scientists write, and is a precursor to the biocompounds geranial and neral, both of which smell sort of lemony, as well as nerol, citronellol, geraniol ester and citronellol acetate ester, all of which smell like roses.
Result: once the seeds germinated and the plants grew and bore fruit, the tomatoes had a lemon-rose aroma
One downside of the transgenic tomatoes is that they contain about half as much lycopene as traditional tomatoes. That means they do not look as red, and lack a compound that has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, especially of the prostate.
Still. With few Americans eating the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, maybe that’s a small price to pay for a proof-of-concept that might get us to eat more.