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If you asked a group of agriculture professionals what was the top development in biotechnology in 2002, would the answer be a cancer-fighting tomato? Probably not. But this advance was found to be the number one development in food biotechnology by a Roper survey of 1,000 randomly selected American consumers.

When asked which publicly reported development in food biotechnology during 2002 was considered most valuable, two-thirds of respondents selected a research program that is enhancing tomatoes with a higher quality of lycopene, an antioxidant believed to help fight cancer.

Top Five Developments In Biotech

The top five developments from more than 20 achievements by government and academic institutions are:

1. Cancer-fighting tomato. (65 percent of respondents ranked as "valuable") This new cancer-fighting tomato variety has been under development for a decade by Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. The new variety offers more than three times the amount of lycopene compared to conventional varieties.

2. Virus-resistant sweet potatoes. (61 percent ranked as "valuable") A new sweet potato variety has built-in resistance to a devastating virus that consumes more than three-fourths of the annual harvest. Scientists at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications' AfriCenter in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other research institutions developed the improved sweet potato, a staple in many African countries.

3. Banana and potato vaccines. (56 percent ranked as "valuable") Bananas and potatoes have been developed that contain a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). Researchers with the University of Rochester have tested varieties equipped with the vaccine, and work is in the third stage of clinical evaluation.

4. Fresher produce. (54 percent ranked as "valuable") A gene that produces a plant hormone that counteracts aging and keeps fruits and vegetables fresh longer was recently discovered at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Researchers are investigating practical applications for the commercial food marketplace that would help lengthen the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and ensure they reach consumers.

5. Hardier Crops. (52 percent ranked as "valuable") Hardier varieties that would allow crops to flourish in extreme climates are being developed at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Researchers there have enhanced a thale cress plant to have a higher tolerance to heat and light stress. This research translates into an opportunity to develop plants that can grow in extreme climates.

"It is these types of advances through biotechnology that can make our foods more functional and truly benefit the healthfulness of people over the long-term," says Mary Lee Chin, a registered dietitian. "As our society struggles with a growing range of health and nutritional issues, biotechnology is a tool that can help us grow foods that are better for our health."

Chin says food biotechnology is hitting its stride after 20 years of development and six years of commercially planted varieties that first emphasized managing pests, such as insects and weeds.

The 2002 study's top advances "represent a shift in focus of plant biotechnology beyond pest management," Chin says. "More and more, biotechnology is moving toward products that will offer direct benefits to consumers, such as improved nutrient profiles and enhanced tastes."

Note: The Council for Biotechnology Information commissioned the Roper survey to gauge consumer interest in new biotechnology developments. To learn more, visit the council's Web site at

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