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British scientists create new source of Vitamin D with gene-edited tomatoes

British scientists have genetically engineered tomatoes to bolster vitamin D. File Photo by Aleph Studio/Shutterstock
British scientists have genetically engineered tomatoes to bolster vitamin D. File Photo by Aleph Studio/Shutterstock

May 23 (UPI) -- British scientists have used a genome editing process to create a new source of Vitamin D in tomatoes as a way to help address malnutrition.

The amount of provitamin D3, the precursor to vitamin D, is equal to that of two medium sized eggs, or about two tablespoons of tuna in the genetically edited tomatoes, the study published Monday in Nature Plants said.

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Tomatoes naturally produce the precursor to vitamin D, which is later converted into other chemicals, but plant biologist Cathie Martin at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, Britain, and her colleagues shut down the pathway to conversion, allowing the precursor to accumulate.

When these tomatoes are exposed to ultraviolet light in the laboratory, some of the provitamin D3 is converted into D3.

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Still, the gene-edited tomatoes have not been developed for commercial use, and it is not yet known how they will fare when grown outside, a statement on the study noted.

Outdoor field trials are expected to begin in Britain next month, The Guardian reported, which could help address malnutrition tied to deficiency of the vitamin, especially in vegans.

The publication of the new study follows British health secretary Sajid Javid announcing last month that there would be an official review to examine food and drink supplementation with vitamin D to close health inequalities related to vitamin D deficiencies.

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The study was launched after evidence surfaced that around one in six adults in Britain had low levels of vitamin D, which could lead to disabilities and bone pain, officials said.

The evidence showed nearly 20% of children in Britain have vitamin D levels below government recommendations, and older people, the housebound, and Black and South Asian communities were also more likely to have lower levels of the vitamin.

A main source of vitamin D, needed for bone, teeth and muscle health, comes from sunlight, but there is not enough sunlight during late fall, early spring and winter months in Britain to obtain it. This means that they rely on dietary sources instead, which is especially challenging for vegans since plants are generally poor sources of the nutrient.

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"Gene-editing tomatoes to accumulate provitamin D3 at levels above recommended dietary guidelines could result in better health for many especially as tomatoes are a widely accessible and readily eaten food," Guy Poppy, a professor of ecology at the University of Southampton, told The Guardian.

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