by Natasha Longo

Papaya also known as papaw or tree melon, is cultivated worldwide in the tropics and subtropics with well over 7 million tons produced globally. Due to their high levels of vitamins and certain enzymes (papain) papayas have been considered a ”wonder fruit”, especially for the digestive tract. However, genetically modified (GM) papayas are approved for cultivation in the US and for consumption in the US and Canada, but not Europe.

The Pursuit of Genetically Modified Papayas

Although commercial utilization of GM papayas is approved in the US, it is not approved in Europe neither for cultivation or food stuffs. It seems the Europeans have their limits when it comes to modified melons. Until now, no application for approval has been submitted. Therefore, importing and marketing genetically modified papayas is not permitted in the EU.

Papaya ringspot (PR) viruses are a major problem in papaya cultivation and can lead to a drastic loss of yield. In Hawaii during the 1990s, half of the papaya harvests were lost due to PR virus infections. This problem gave birth to GM papayas with the development and cultivation of virus-resistant papayas. To do this, certain viral genes encoding  capsid proteins were transferred to the papaya genome. The first GM virus resistant papayas were commercially grown in Hawaii in 1999 and they were so successful that by 2010, 80% of Hawaiian papaya plants were genetically modified. Transgenic papayas now cover about one thousand hectares, or three quarters of the total Hawaiian papaya crop. The long-term health effects of GM papayas have not been studied and will only be known after decades of consumption by mass populations.

After the success in Hawaii, other papaya variants are being developed in different regions that are resistant to the viruses prevalent in those areas. A cooperation project, in which international companies and establishments from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are taking part, is working on the development of a virus-resistant papaya for the South-East Asian region.

Approval and cultivation of GM papayas are expected in the near future in some Asian countries. In 2007, it is thought that 3500 ha. GM papayas were grown in China.

Two kinds of papayas are commonly grown. One has sweet, red (or orangish) flesh, and the other has yellow flesh; in Australia, these are called “red papaya” and “yellow papaw”, respectively. Either kind, picked green, is called a “green papaya.”

The large-fruited, red-fleshed ‘Maradol’, ‘Sunrise’, and ‘Caribbean Red’ papayas often sold in US markets are commonly grown in Mexico and Belize.

In 2011 Philippine researchers reported they by intergeneric hybridisation between carica papaya and Vasconcellea quercifolia they had developed conventionally bred, nongenetically engineered papaya that are proving resistant to PRV.

A recent amendment inserted into the 2013 Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee last week will revoke the ability of individual states’ lawmakers to pass GMO-labeling laws, meaning you may never know if you are eating a GM payapa.

South American countries remain as a fairly safe haven for organically grown papayas so consumers may wish to read the labels to confirm the source (while you still can).

Health Benefits of Papaya

Compared to other fruits, papaya has the most health benefits from cardiovascular to colon health.

Papaya fruit is a source of nutrients such as provitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folate and dietary fiber. If you want to boost your metabolism, eat papaya as it contains vitamin B in the form of folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-1 and riboflavin.

Papaya skin, pulp and seeds also contain a variety of phytochemicals, including lycopene and polyphenols. In preliminary research, danielone, a phytoalexin found in papaya fruit, showed antifungal activity againstColletotrichum gloesporioides, a pathogenic fungus of papaya.

Papayas have a relatively high amount of pectin, which can be used to make jellies. The smell of ripe, fresh papaya flesh can strike some people as unpleasant with some even suggesting its smell is similar to feces.

The black seeds of the papaya are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste. They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper. These small jelly-like seeds have antibacterial properties; they prevent kidney failure, purge the liver and flush out toxins. The seeds contain antibacterial properties against E.coliStaphylococcus aureus orSalmonella typhi.

In some parts of the world, papaya leaves are made into tea as a treatment for malaria. Antimalarial and antiplasmodial activity has been noted in some preparations of the plant.

If you face discomfort with digestion, try this vibrant fruit. Papaya helps prevent constipation and helps in the digestion process. It is marketed in tablet form to remedy digestive problems.

Papain is also applied topically in countries where it grows for the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. Papain ointment is commonly made from fermented papaya flesh, and is applied as a gel-like paste. Harrison Ford was treated for a ruptured disc incurred during filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by papain injections.

Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries have long used green papaya as an herbal medicine for contraception and abortion. Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery. Phytochemicals in papaya may suppress the effects of progesterone.

If you are suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, or in any pain, papaya can lessen the agony. Papaya is known for its anti inflammatory properties and helps for faster healing.

If you are constantly nursing a cold, include papaya in your diet to fight off colds and coughs. Papaya can boost your immune system, thanks to its abundance of vitamin C.

The supplement bromelain – a papaya based enzyme also helps reduce histamine release, the body’s natural allergic response.

Papaya juice has been found to have an antiproliferative effect on liver cancer cells, possibly due to lycopene or immune system stimulation.

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Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.

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