Hebrew U Researchers Develop Tomato That Fights Degenerative Diseases

July 12, 2020

This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom.

Israeli researchers have developed a new tomato strain that can help fight degenerative diseases, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said.

According to the university, “Xantomato” is rich in a substance called zeaxanthin, a natural yellow pigment that helps plants in the photosynthesis process and can be found mainly in corn, orange peppers, pumpkins and citrus fruits, and at very low concentrations in melons, mangos, apricots, and peaches.

Zeaxanthin could potentially inhibit degenerative diseases by protecting the light receptors in the retina from damage caused by strong blue light.

The researchers, headed by Professor Joseph Hirschberg, who specializes in genetics, molecular biology, and genetic engineering in plants, said that adding zeaxanthin to the daily diet helps to reduce the development of degenerative diseases, especially macular degeneration, which causes blindness in adults.

Hirschberg noted that “Xantomato” – named for “xanthophyll,” the group of substances to which zeaxanthin belongs, and “tomato” – was developed using classical genetic cultivation and hybridizations of different strains.

Zeaxanthin makes up more than half of the pigments in the new tomato, on top of the vitamins and other essential nutrients found in regular tomatoes, he noted. In fact, the new tomato strain has seven times more zeaxanthin than corn, which is the main source of this substance in today’s diets.

“As far as we know, this is the highest level of zeaxanthin achieved in any major agricultural crop in the world,” the researchers noted.