US: Scientists turn tomatoes into a rich source of vitamin D

Tomatoes get riper and tastier in the summer Sun. Two studies now show that with a little help from gene editing, Sun-ripened tomatoes can also stockpile a precursor molecule to vitamin D, a vital nutrient normally found mainly in animal products.

“This could be a game changer” in nations where vitamin D deficiency is a problem, says Esther van der Knaap, a plant geneticist at the University of Georgia, Athens. Biofortified plants could also help vegans get enough of the nutrient. The finding “opens up a very exciting new era for vitamin D,” says nutritional scientist Susan Lanham-New of the University of Surrey.

Because tomatoes naturally make a key vitamin D precursor, two groups thought some genetic tweaking could turn them into an animal-free source of the vitamin.

In Nature Plants, a team led by Cathie Martin, a plant metabolic engineer at the John Innes Centre, reported that knocking out a single gene created tomatoes which could each provide 20% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D in the United Kingdom. And in a late March preprint, a group led by plant geneticist Sunghwa Choe of Seoul National University reported that by knocking out a related gene, it was able to produce tomatoes with even higher levels of a vitamin D precursor.

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