Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common, but the substance is only found in a few foods. Scientists have fortified tomatoes with vitamin D using CRISPR gene editing to help address the problem.
Vitamin D is especially important for bone health and immune system function because it helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus. The majority of it is formed in the skin in response to UV light from the Sun, making it difficult to receive enough of it by food alone.
Unfortunately, many individuals still don’t get enough of it, with vitamin D deficiency affecting an estimated one billion people globally. This appears to raise the risk of heart disease, certain malignancies, autoimmune illnesses, and weaker bones and muscles, among other things.
Researchers at the John Innes Centre set out to create a new source of vitamin D by genetically altering tomatoes for the new study. The fruit already contains a vitamin D precursor called 7-DHC, but only in very small amounts and exclusively in the leaves, which aren’t normally consumed.
The researchers employed the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique to turn off a specific enzyme in the tomato genome that transforms 7-DHC into other compounds. 7-DHC accumulates at substantially larger amounts in the flesh, peel, and leaves of the tomato without that enzyme. Importantly, inhibiting this enzyme had no effect on the tomato plants’ growth, development, or yield.
By exposing the tomato to UVB light, the 7-DHC might be transformed to vitamin D3, much the way it is in human skin. After that, it was discovered that one tomato contains as much vitamin D as two eggs or 28 g (1 oz) of tuna, and that this might be boosted in sun-dried tomatoes, for example.
The team claims that, in addition to making the tomato fruit more nutritious, the vitamin-D-rich leaves might be used to manufacture supplements rather than being wasted. Because other plants, such as aubergine and potatoes, share the same metabolic pathways, gene editing could be utilized to make them more nutritious as well.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Plants.
Source: John Innes Centre