The flesh and rind of the fruit were genetically engineered to contain the same vitamin D levels as two eggs or 28 grams of tuna, both of which are currently recommended sources of the essential food.
If exposed to ultraviolet light for an hour, these provitamins were easily converted to vitamin D3.
Both the provitamin and the vitamin come with possible health-related benefits.
“We have shown that you can biofortify tomatoes with provitamin D3 using gene editing, which means that tomatoes could be developed as a plant-based, sustainable source of vitamin D3,” says botanist Cathie Martin who works at The John Innes Center, an independent center for plant research in England.
“Forty percent of Europeans have vitamin D deficiency and also one billion people worldwide. We are not only treating a huge health problem, but helping producers, because tomato leaves that are currently being wasted could be used to make supplements from the gene-edited lines.”
Among the genetically engineered tomatoes, researchers found that the edible green leaves contained 600 micrograms of provitamin D3 per gram.
This is 60 times the recommended daily allowance for adults.
The authors do not suggest that people eat tomato leaves along with the meat, but rather that we use the greens instead of discarding them. For example, the leftover leaves could be ground to make vegan-friendly vitamin D3 supplements.
If we are aware of this, it seems that every part of the genetically engineered fruit can be used to treat vitamin D deficiency.
While exposure to the sun is one way to boost D levels in the human body, diet is another important source. That said, there are very few foods that naturally contains the vitamin and even fewer who are vegan.
As a result, products such as milk, cereal, and orange juice have been artificially fortified with vitamin D to help boost public health.
Tomatoes, however, naturally contain some precursors to vitamin D3, known as 7-dehydrocholesterol or 7-DHC.
By disabling the genes that encode for enzymes that break down 7-DHC, researchers forced the vitamin D advance to accumulate in both immature and ripe fruits.
This precursor can be easily converted to vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, but it does not necessarily have to show benefits.
“For seniors with declining 7-DHC levels, consuming fruits biofortified with 7-DHC could address their deficiencies directly,” the authors note. to write.
Even better, the genetic adjustment caused no changes to tomato growth, development, or yield.
Considering that vitamin deficiency is linked to an increased risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, depressionand dementia, bio-fortifying fruits and vegetables with the food could possibly go a long way toward improving public health.
In light of the promising results, researchers are demanding that tomatoes be the next plant-based, sustainable source of vitamin D3. And they may not be the last either.
Eggplants, potatoes and peppers all have similar precursors to vitamin D3, which could be tailored in similar ways to accumulate in the plants.
“The provitamin D-enriched tomatoes we produce provide a much-needed plant-based source of the sun’s vitamin.” says plant scientist Jie Li, who works in Martin’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher.
“This is great news for people adopting a plant-rich, vegetarian or vegan diet, and for the growing number of people worldwide suffering from the problem of vitamin D deficiency.”
The study was published in Natural Plants.