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Engineering Super Ingredients
By: Katie Schaefer, Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine, with Cathie Martin, PhD
Posted: January 30, 2009, from the February 2009 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.
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To produce the purple anthocyanin-containing tomatoes, the team utilized a genus of Gram-negative bacteria, Agrobacterium tumifaciens. “Agrobacterium undertakes the natural process of transferring its DNA to plants,” explained Martin. “It can move a piece of DNA from its genome to a plant’s genome.” The team used this technology to isolate a piece of DNA from Antirrhinum, commonly known as a snapdragon and transfer the DNA to a tomato via the agrobacterium. The anthocyanins in snapdragons are known to pigment the plant’s flowers with their dark color.
GMOs in Personal Care
GMOs often are used to assist farmers in the production of food crops or to add health and medical benefits to food items, which transfer to personal care as well. Anthocyanin-boosted tomatoes, for example, were engineered to assist the body in fighting cancer and heart disease because, according to Martin, anthocyanins trigger the body to produce antioxidants and fight free radicals. This free radical-fighting ability also provides antiaging and sun protection benefits due to the oxidative damage that is involved in sun damage.
In addition, the Personal Care Products Council reports2 that GMOs have been used to produce cosmetic ingredients. Canola, for instance, has been modified to produce high levels of lauric acid, a key ingredient in soaps and detergents, at a reduced cost to consumers. Other cosmetic ingredients potentially derived from GMOs include corn oil and flour, soybean oil, lecithin and proteins produced by yeast.
Approval and Applications
According to Martin, GMO plants must undergo a significant amount of testing for regulatory approval. To test the safety and efficacy of the purple tomatoes, Martin’s team fed the tomatoes to mice having a particular susceptibility toward cancer. The team is also in the process of recruiting human subjects for further testing. Once researchers establish the safety and efficacy of the genetically modified tomatoes, they must prove their equivalence to conventional materials on the market.
1. L Bren, Genetic Engineering: The Future of Foods? FDA Consumer magazine 11–12 (2003)
2. Personal Care Council Web site, available at www.cosmeticsinfo.org/HBI/2 (accessed Jan 5, 2009)