Can Food Stop the Aging Process? Scientists Engineer Tomatoes Designed to Keep You Young

Stock shot of tomatoes on the vine in a local hot house. Michael Bradley/Getty Images

Scientists have created the world's first tomatoes genetically engineered to contain extra antioxidants. In a breakthrough for the field of genetic engineering, and potentially anti-aging, researchers at the University of Hong Kong discovered a method of fortifying tomatoes with—deep breath—vitamin E, provitamin A, lycopene, phytosterols, and squalene.

A trio of Chinese researchers isolated a gene normally found in Brassica juncea (Indian mustard) and successfully modified it for introduction into tomatoes. Regular old tomatoes are already a good source of antioxidants like vitamin E and lycopene, a compound that's good for everything from your heart to your skin. But the new and improved ones now contain nearly 500 percent more vitamin E than their unenhanced counterparts; lycopene was boosted by more than 100 percent, too.

Indian mustard produces edible leaves, stems, and seeds. It also contains a gene variant called 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A synthase (HMGS). Modifying this and introducing it into tomatoes resulted in tomatoes stuffed with about 90 percent more antioxidants than the unaltered tomatoes used as control subjects.

"Our transgenic tomatoes can be processed to give tomato juice and tomato paste that are enriched with many healthy components," lead researcher Chye Mee-len from the university's School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong told the South China Morning Post.

Extracts from antioxidant-rich fruits are already popular skin-care ingredients. Chye went on to explain that the extracts of these new tomatoes would probably make exemplary components of anti-aging creams and sunscreens; they have anti-inflammatory properties as well. The next step is to test the health benefits on animals.

Florida's citrus industry bets on a genetically engineered orange in a make-or-break fight against fruit disease

— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) September 26, 2017

It should be pointed out here that even though an extra 500 percent of a buzzy superfood compound might sound great, it doesn't necessarily mean our bodies can actually absorb it. Despite what Big Vitamin or whatnot would have you believe, most of us don't actually need supplements or any additional vitamins that we can't get from regular foods; excess vitamins are simply peed out. Still, since lots of people don't actually eat enough fruits and vegetables to begin with even if they have access to them, developments like this may prove useful. And genetic engineering breakthroughs have the potential to help nutritionally enhance the foods in parts of the world where malnutrition is a serious threat.

Aside from a slightly deeper color, the new tomatoes look, and presumably taste, the same.