Scientific name: Ananas comosus
Known for: Aiding criminals wanting to lose their fingerprints, being delicious on gammon.
Record broken: The world’s most convincing panther impression by a plant.
In December 2016, the American FDA approved a pink pineapple as safe to sell in the US. This pineapple was developed by the global fruit and vegetable producer Del Monte. Its pink flesh is a result of down-regulating the gene β-LCY, which encodes the enzyme Lycopene beta-cyclase.
Lycopene is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment. It is present in many fruits and vegetables, and tomatoes are one of the richest sources of this phytochemical (Wertz, 2009). The structure of lycopene is very similar to that of carotene, except that it has a psi-end group at both ends (Figure1). When the enzyme lycopene beta-cyclase acts on one end, the enzyme forms gamma-carotene (Araya-Garay et al. 2011). When acting on both ends, it forms beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is the pigment responsible for the orange colour of carrots.
By ‘tuning down the gene’, Del Monte created a pineapple with extra sweet pink flesh pineapple with reported anti-oxidant properties. Lycopene, as a carotene, consists only of hydrogen and carbon molecules (chemical formula: C40H56), with eleven conjugated double bonds (Kong et al., 2010). These double bonds are able to ‘donate’ their electron to any free radicals in cells, preventing potential cell damage. Therefore this is a trait which producers are keen to highlight in their produce. Many producers claim that Lycopene has an effect in preventing cardiovascular and reducing the risk in prostate cancer, however this has not been demonstrated in any studies (Ilic et al., 2011). In 2005, the US FDA rejected manufacturers’ requests in 2005 to allow “qualified labeling” for lycopene and the reduction of various cancer risks.
In conclusion, Del Monte’s pink pineapple may not be able to prevent cancer, but it should at least taste sweet and is unlikely to cause any damage, as the phytochemical responsible for its pink flesh is present in many other commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. It should still remove your fingerprints, should you be thinking of stealing a large jewel. It also looks very pretty on Instagram.
Wertz, K. (2009). Lycopene Effects Contributing to Prostate Health. Nutrition and Cancer, 61(6), 775–783. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635580903285023
Araya-Garay, J. M., Feijoo-Siota, L., Veiga-Crespo, P., & Villa, T. G. (2011). cDNA cloning of a novel gene codifying for the enzyme lycopene β-cyclase from Ficus carica and its expression in Escherichia coli. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 92(4), 769–777. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-011-3488-8
Kong, K.-W., Khoo, H.-E., Prasad, K. N., Ismail, A., Tan, C.-P., & Rajab, N. F. (2010). Revealing the Power of the Natural Red Pigment Lycopene. Molecules, 15(2), 959–987. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules15020959
Ilic, D., Forbes, K. M., & Hassed, C. (2011). Lycopene for the prevention of prostate cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD008007.pub2