A John Innes Centre-led research team has used genetic modification (GM) to create a new tomato variety that contains high levels of natural L-DOPA.
Synthetic L-DOPA, used to treat Parkinson’s since the 1960s, is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of Parkinson’s disease drugs.
The new tomato variety could be of immense value to developing nations with restricted access to pharmaceuticals.
Using GM tomato plants as natural sources of L-DOPA also has benefits for Parkinson’s sufferers worldwide who have adverse effects to taking chemically synthesised L-DOPA, such as nausea and behavioural complications.
Tomatoes were chosen by the JIC researchers as the best candidates for genetic modification. The tomato is a widely cultivated crop and its production can be scaled up readily and cost-effectively, potentially offering a standardised and controlled natural source of L-DOPA.
Production pipeline: from tomato plant to pharma facility
Now, the goal is to create a production pipeline in which L-DOPA is extracted from L-DOPA-rich tomatoes and purified into the pharmaceutical product.
“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,” Professor Cathie Martin, corresponding author of the study, explained to Fresh Plaza in a recent article
“Then you could scale up at 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.”
Parkinson’s disease is a growing problem worldwide, including in developing countries in which many Parkinson’s sufferers can’t afford the estimated $2-per-day cost of synthetic L-DOPA .
Read the original study, ‘Metabolic engineering of tomato fruit enriched in L-DOPA’, in the Journal of Metabolic Engineering.
Tomatoes offer affordable source of Parkinson’s disease drug I John Innes Centre