Japan Starts Selling World’s First Genome-Edited Tomato

Sicilian Rouge High GABA is a special type of tomato designed to contain high levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid believed to aid relaxation and help lower blood pressure.

Tokyo-based startup Sanatech Seed Co. teamed up with scientists at the University of Tsukuba to develop a new variety of tomatoes using CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology. Named Sicilian Rouge High GABA, this new type of tomato contains five to six times the normal level of a type of amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. According to Japanese media, the company removed an inhibitory domain within the tomato’s genome to enable it to produce these high levels of GABA.

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According to Shimpei Takeshita, President of Sanatech Seed and Chief Innovation Officer of Pioneer EcoScience, the exclusive distributor of the tomato, the company was given permission to commercialize the genetically altered Sicilian Rouge High GABA variety last December, and contract farmers have been growing them ever since. Now, the tomatoes are ready to hit store shelves.

At first we got mixed reactions to genome-edited foods, and we thought it would be difficult to bring them to market as they’re not fully understood by consumers,” Takeshita Tatsuo, chair of Sanatech Seed told NHK. “But the tomatoes earned a good reputation from those who took part in the cultivation trials.”


A Japanese health ministry committee granted Sanatech Seed permission to commercialize the new tomato variety, provided notification was given, and the startup plans to ship each package of tomatoes with a sticker that says “improved using genome editing technology”.

Unlike genetically modified foods, genome-edited plant varieties are considered just as safe as varieties improved using conventional methods because no outside gene is introduced during the process.


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Sanatech Seed has already started accepting online orders for Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomatoes. A 3-kilogram box of tomatoes will reportedly cost 7,500 yen or about 68 dollars. That’s a lot of money for tomatoes…