• Open Access

Pathway engineering for healthy phytochemicals leading to the production of novel flavonoids in tomato fruit


* Correspondence (fax +31 317 41 80 94; e-mail elio.schijlen@wur.nl)


Flavonoids are a large family of plant polyphenolic secondary metabolites. Although they are widespread throughout the plant kingdom, some flavonoid classes are specific for only a few plant species. Due to their presumed health benefits there is growing interest in the development of food crops with tailor-made levels and composition of flavonoids, designed to exert an optimal biological effect. In order to explore the possibilities of flavonoid engineering in tomato fruits, we have targeted this pathway towards classes of potentially healthy flavonoids which are novel for tomato. Using structural flavonoid genes (encoding stilbene synthase, chalcone synthase, chalcone reductase, chalcone isomerase and flavone synthase) from different plant sources, we were able to produce transgenic tomatoes accumulating new phytochemicals. Biochemical analysis showed that the fruit peel contained high levels of stilbenes (resveratrol and piceid), deoxychalcones (butein and isoliquiritigenin), flavones (luteolin-7-glucoside and luteolin aglycon) and flavonols (quercetin glycosides and kaempferol glycosides). Using an online high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) antioxidant detection system, we demonstrated that, due to the presence of the novel flavonoids, the transgenic tomato fruits displayed altered antioxidant profiles. In addition, total antioxidant capacity of tomato fruit peel with high levels of flavones and flavonols increased more than threefold. These results on genetic engineering of flavonoids in tomato fruit demonstrate the possibilities to change the levels and composition of health-related polyphenols in a crop plant and provide more insight in the genetic and biochemical regulation of the flavonoid pathway within this worldwide important vegetable.