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Enrichment of tomato fruit with health-promoting anthocyanins by expression of select transcription factors


Dietary consumption of anthocyanins, a class of pigments produced by higher plants, has been associated with protection against a broad range of human diseases. However, anthocyanin levels in the most commonly eaten fruits and vegetables may be inadequate to confer optimal benefits. When we expressed two transcription factors from snapdragon in tomato, the fruit of the plants accumulated anthocyanins at levels substantially higher than previously reported for efforts to engineer anthocyanin accumulation in tomato and at concentrations comparable to the anthocyanin levels found in blackberries and blueberries. Expression of the two transgenes enhanced the hydrophilic antioxidant capacity of tomato fruit threefold and resulted in fruit with intense purple coloration in both peel and flesh. In a pilot test, cancer-susceptible Trp53−/− mice fed a diet supplemented with the high-anthocyanin tomatoes showed a significant extension of life span.

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Figure 1: Fruit-specific phenotypes of T1 generation tomatoes (cv. MicroTom) expressing both Del and Ros1 under the control of the E8 promoter.
Figure 2: Comparative analysis of phenylpropanoid content and composition.
Figure 3: Expression of Del and Ros1 causes the upregulation of genes required for anthocyanin biosynthesis and results in increased PAL activity and higher total antioxidant capacity.
Figure 4: Life expectancy of Trp53−/− mice fed the standard diet or diets supplemented with 10% red or purple tomato powder.


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We thank Andrew Davis for photography and David Hopwood for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the EU FP5 PROFOOD project (QLK1-CT-2001-01080) awarded to A.G.B., R.D.H., H.-P.M. and C.M.; by the EU FP6 FLORA project (FOOD-CT-01730) awarded to H.-P.M., R.D.H., M.G. and C.M.; by the Centre for Biosystems Genomics as part of the Netherlands Genomic Initiative which supports A.G.B. and R.D.H.; and by the core strategic grant of the Biological and Biotechnological Science Research Council (BBSRC) to JIC, which supports C.M.

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Authors and Affiliations



E.B. assembled the constructs for transformation, undertook the transformation experiments, performed all of the molecular biological analysis and contributed to the planning and writing of the paper. L.T. and M.G. performed the animal experiments with mice. H.-P.M., A.M. and S.P. performed the phenolic analysis and identification and contributed to writing the manuscript. E.G.W.M.S., R.D.H. and A.G.B. prepared the PROFOOD tomato microarray, undertook the comparative expression profiling and the comparative HPLC analysis in the different transgenic lines. J.L. performed HPLC analysis in the different transgenic lines. C.M. planned and designed the project and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Cathie Martin.

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Butelli, E., Titta, L., Giorgio, M. et al. Enrichment of tomato fruit with health-promoting anthocyanins by expression of select transcription factors. Nat Biotechnol 26, 1301–1308 (2008).

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