Genetically modified tomatoes containing provitamin D3

Some British scientists have created tomatoes containing provitamin D3, a precursor of vitamin D. Trials will be conducted in the open air starting in June. 

By interfering with a tomato gene, researchers have succeeded in forcing the tomato to produce and store the provitamin D3.

Normally, tomatoes do not contain vitamin D, nor does any other fruit for that matter. This nutrient, essential to our health, is found in animal foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. And we can produce some ourselves as a result of exposure to the sun. 

However, in nature, the plant does not transform this provitamin D3 into vitamin D. It converts it into defense substances. Researchers have now identified the gene responsible for this process, and they have modified it in order to trigger the production of vitamin D, and it works. The plant started producing vitamin D, and its growth was not affected.

So far, all the tests have been conducted in the laboratory. The researchers must still verify that the genetically modified plant will be resistant under real conditions. They have received approval to start growing crops outdoors from the 1st of June.

“The genetic modification of tomatoes to accumulate provitamin D3 at levels higher than the diet recommendations could improve the health of many people, especially since tomatoes are widely available and easily consumed,” explains Guy Poppy, professor of ecology at the University of Southampton.

The scientists have looked into the enzyme present in tomato plants that normally converts provitamin D3 into cholesterol. By modifying it, the researchers succeeded in blocking this pathway, therefore allowing the provitamin D3 to accumulate in the fruit and tomato leaves. 

They have also found that the quantity of provitamin D3 contained in one tomato if converted into vitamin D3, is equivalent to the levels present in two medium-sized eggs or 28g of tuna. 

In order to convert this quantity into active vitamin D3, the fruit must be exposed to UVB light or cultivated outdoors, which the researchers want to test in the fields next month. The results of this research were published in Nature Plants.


Photo: Dreamstime

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