Researchers and plant breeders are taking advantage of constantly advancing understanding of plant genetics. This means the next generation of lettuces could be higher in such important nutrients as vitamin C, antioxidants and beta carotene.
These improvements in the nutritional value of lettuce could make a world of difference, researchers say, because people are not likely to begin eating enough vegetables any time soon.
"Nobody eats enough fruits and vegetables, and that is worldwide," David Still, director of the agricultural research institute at Cal Poly Pomona told agalert.com. "We eat so much lettuce, it is a major source of nutrients in U.S. diets. People will not change their diets. People don't eat much spinach or broccoli, but we can change the nutrients in lettuce."
Still made his remarks during the Future of Lettuce Symposium, an event put together by the University of California, Davis, Genes to Growers project that featured presentations by university, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agricultural researchers.
The event was originally scheduled for mid-March in San Luis Obispo County, but was moved to a video conference in order to avoid a large social gathering.
A long-term goal of this research is to develop lettuce varieties that are uniformly high in important nutrients under different growing conditions, and are capable of conserving both water and fertilizer.
"We were screening by thinking future lettuce should use less water and less nitrogen and the current lettuce genomics are not well adapted," Still said. "There is a huge amount of difference based on environmental conditions, and that is a problem. We should dial in as much consistency as we can. We have candidate genes. We're going to end up stacking the traits and doing them one at a time."