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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Super-broccoli 'to fight cancer'
Broccoli could be modified to fight disease
Food scientists have created a type of super-broccoli that has an enhanced ability to reduce the risk of cancer.

The vegetable is a cross between ordinary broccoli and a wild Sicilian relative. It tastes the same as the standard variety.

It is to be tested soon on human volunteers, and could be in the shops in two years.

We have produced a vegetable that has, according to laboratory tests 100 times as much anti-cancer activity

Dr Robert Mithen, John Innes Centre

Scientists hope the vegetable could help to cut the number of cases of colon cancer - one of the biggest cancer killers in the UK.

Broccoli contains a chemical called sulphoraphane which helps neutralise cancer-causing substances found in the gut.

New Scientist magazine reports that the super-broccoli contains 100 times more sulphoraphane than the ordinary version of the vegetable.

When sulphoraphane is released in the gut it steps up production of powerful enzymes called glutathione transferases that destroy cancer-causing food substances, such as those found in heavily barbecued meat.

People who eat super-broccoli are expected to produce much higher levels of the enzymes.

The trials, to be conducted by the government-funded John Innes Centre in Norwich, will compare the effect of super-broccoli and ordinary broccoli on human volunteers.

Anti-cancer activity

Plant biologist Dr Richard Mithen, from the John Innes Centre, said: "There has been a lot of research on broccoli both here and in the US for the past 10 to 15 years, and there is plenty of evidence to show that broccoli has this anti-cancer activity.

"The problem is that in normal cultivars you might buy in Tescos or Sainsbury's, the activity is very low.

"We have produced a vegetable that has 100 times more sulphoraphane than normal and, according to laboratory tests 100 times as much anti-cancer activity."

It would really be quite something if this new broccoli contributed to lowering colon cancer rates

Dr Robert Mithen, John Innes Centre

Dr Mithen said the anti-cancer properties of broccoli not only helped prevent bowel cancer, but may also slow down already developing cancers.

Development and testing of the new broccoli was carried out in conjunction with the Institute of Food Research, also in Norwich.

Dr Mithen said: "It's fairly well acknowledged that a third of all cancers are probably caused by bad diet. It would really be quite something if this new broccoli contributed to lowering colon cancer rates."

Two companies, Unilever and the American company Seminis, have already expressed interest in producing the broccoli seeds on a commercial basis.

Dr Joanna Reynolds, science information officer for the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "Diet undoubtedly plays an important role in bowel cancer.

"Eating a healthy balanced diet, including plenty of fresh vegetables, will help to reduce risk of the disease.

"The full significance of sulphoraphane is not yet known, but it will be interesting to see the results of this trial."

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