Scientists Engineer Tomatoes to Synthesize Parkinson’s Disease Drug

The new plants could be a simple and affordable way to get the much needed drug from a common produce.

What if a vital drug could come from our food? That would be a more effective, more affordable, and more convenient way to get this essential supplement from our daily diet.

Researchers led by a John Innes Centre team have now produced a tomato enriched in the Parkinson’s disease drug L-DOPA that could not only be used in developing nations where access to drugs is restricted but could also be useful for those who suffer adverse side effects from the medication. 

“The idea is that you can grow tomatoes with relatively little infrastructure. As GMOs (genetically modified organisms) you could grow them in screen houses, controlled environments with very narrow meshes, so you would not have pollen escape through insects,” said in a statement Professor Cathie Martin, the corresponding author of the study.

“Then you could scale up at a relatively low cost. A local industry could prepare L-DOPA from tomatoes because it’s soluble and you can do extractions. Then you could make a purified product relatively low tech which could be dispensed locally.”

The fruit was modified by introducing a gene responsible for the synthesis of L-DOPA found in beetroot. L-DOPA is produced from tyrosine, so the researchers inserted a gene encoding a tyrosinase that elevated the level of L-DOPA specifically in the fruit parts of the plant.

The new tomatoes carried levels of 150mg of L-DOPA per kg. Now, the researchers even hope to extract the L-DOPA in the plants and modify it into a pharmaceutical product.

“We have demonstrated that the use of the tyrosinase-expressing tomatoes as a source of L-DOPA is possible. It’s a further demonstration of tomato as a strong option for synthetic biology. Additionally, there were surprising beneficial effects including improvement in shelf-life and raised levels of amino-acids that we can investigate,” said first author Dr. Dario Breitel.

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