Scientists Genetically Edited Regular Tomatoes To Improve Vitamin D Levels

Scientists have genetically edited tomatoes that are more nutritious in provitamin D3 — a precursor to vitamin D, and they’re as high as two whole eggs or a tablespoon full of tuna.

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They did so by disabling a specific molecule in the plant’s genome that boosted provitamin D3 in both the fruit and the leaves of the tomato plants. This was then converted to vitamin D3 via exposure to UVB light.

To the unaware, our body gets vitamin D primarily after our skin’s exposed to UVB light. However, a major source still remains to be food. The new tomato crop could help millions who are suffering from vitamin D deficiency which has also been known to be linked to increased severity of infection by COVID-19.

Tomatoes, on their own, possess the building blocks of vitamin D3 dubbed provitamin D3 or 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) in their leaves at very low levels. Provitamin D3 doesn’t normally accumulate in ripe tomatoes.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing to make revisions to the genetic code of tomato plants so that provitamin D3 accumulates in the tomato fruit. Researchers saw the leaves of the gene-edited plants to possess up to 600 ug of provitamin D3 per gram of dry weight. To put things into perspective, the recommended daily intake of vitamin d for adults is just 10 ug.

Researchers claim that these leaves can be used to make vegan-friendly supplements for vitamin D3 or for food fortification.

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Professor Cathie Martin at the John Innes Centre who supervised the study said that it demonstrated the potential for gene editing to be used to enhance the nutritional properties of foods. Moreover, this technique can be applied to make similar changes in any elite variety of tomatoes. 

This meant that companies could bring this trait into their patent-protected cultivars or could be introduced into the tomato variety Gardener’s Delight where there’s no patent protection. This can also work well in other kinds of solanaceous food crops such as peppers, potatoes chillies and brinjals.

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