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Is Tomato Juice the New Red Wine?

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Quick: What drink is red, delicious, and full of cancer-fighting, Alzheimer’s-preventing, and stress-reducing properties? If you answered red wine, you’re right—for now. But in the future, we’ll also accept “What is: tomato juice?” (In the meantime, here are 5 Red Wine Mistakes You're Probably Making.)

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom have developed a new genetically modified tomato that is chock-full of resveratrol, the natural disease-fighting antioxidant that makes red wine such a nutritional powerhouse. The researchers have been able to grow a tomato that has as much resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine—holy health! (Learn 5 Things You Didn't Know About GMO Foods.)

In a study in Nature Communications, researchers also modified tomatoes to produce larger quantities of genistein, the cancer-fighting compound in soy beans. In fact, the genistein-rich tomatoes weigh in at the equivalent of 2.5 kg of tofu. 

All of this would be in addition to the nutrients already packed into the fruit, which include lycopene (what gives it that fire-engine red hue), vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, copper, potassium, beta-carotene, lutein, and biotin.

How do the scientists alter the genetic code? Adding certain protein enzymes to the fruit boosts the levels of phenylpropanoids and flavonoids—two types of antioxidants—and triggers the production of disease-fighting compounds like resveratrol and genistein. Researchers point out that the same process can be used in the future to infuse the red fruit with other beneficial compounds that are great for our health as we eat them but are actually extracted from the fruits by medical researchers and used to make medicine. And there's no big mystery as to why they chose to work with tomatoes—they yield a lot of crop with little maintenance. (Find out Why the Most Nutritious Foods Aren’t As Healthy As They Used to Be.)

But why do we need supercharged tomatoes? “Medicinal plants with high value are often difficult to grow and manage, and need very long cultivation times to produce the desired compounds. Our research provides a fantastic platform to quickly produce these valuable medicinal compounds in tomatoes,” said study co-author Yang Zhang, Ph.D.

These compounds can then be purified directly from tomato juice, easily making life-saving medicine—or if the tomato juice becomes widely available, life-saving Bloody Mary’s.

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