Around 40% of Europeans have a vitamin D insufficiency, alongside 1 billion other people worldwide. However, scientists have used gene editing to produce tomatoes with higher vitamin D levels, in hope of combating the problem.
To create the vitamin filled tomato, scientists used gene editing using a system known as CRISPR-Cas9 to turn off a specific molecule in the plants genome. When the molecule was turned off, it increased pro vitamin D3 in both the fruit and leaves of the tomato plants. For the final step, the scientists used UVB light to turn the pro vitamin D3 into vitamin D3. The results were that the scientists found were promising.
After editing, they found that a single tomato contained as much vitamin D as two medium sized eggs or 28g of tuna, both of which are recommended dietary sources for the vitamin. Interestingly, the scientists also found the levels of vitamin D in ripe fruit could be increased by further exposure to UVB light.
“We are not only addressing a huge health problem, but are helping producers, because tomato leaves which currently go to waste, could be used to make supplements from the gene-edited lines." said Professor Cathie Martin, corresponding author of the study.
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The increased amount of vitamin D also found in the leaves of the edited plants, that would otherwise go to waste, could be used to create vegan-friendly vitamin D3 supplements. Even more encouragingly, they also found that blocking the enzyme had no effect on the growth of the tomato or its development.