Tomato engineered to Synthesize Parkinson’s Disease Drug

Scientists have produced a tomato enriched in the Parkinson’s disease drug L-DOPA. which can be a new affordable source of one of the world’s essential medicines.

Image Source: John Innes Center

In developing nations where access to pharmaceutical drugs is restricted, the development of the genetically modified (GM) tomato will be a great alternative.

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This innovative use of tomato plants as a natural source of L-DOPA also offers benefits for people who suffer adverse effects, including nausea and behavioral complications of chemically synthesized L-DOPA.

The team of John Innes Centre has modified the tomato fruit by introducing a gene responsible for the synthesis of L-DOPA in beetroot where it functions in the production of the pigments betalains.

Professor Cathie Martin, the corresponding author of the study said in a statement; “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.”

“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.”

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The drug L-DOPA is produced from tyrosine, an amino acid found in many foods. The research team of the John Innes Center inserted a gene encoding a tyrosinase, an enzyme that uses tyrosine to build molecules such as L-DOPA. This uplifted the level of L-DOPA specifically in the fruit part of the plant and led to higher yields than those associated with L-DOPA production in the whole plant.

The first author of the study Dr. Dario Breitel said that; ” 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.”

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

Source: John Innes Center

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