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Tomatoes genetically modified to produce more vitamin D.

I tomatoes can be genetically modified to produce more provitamin D3 – a precursor of vitamin D3 – according to a study published in “Nature Plants”. These modified tomatoes could represent a new dietary source of vitamin D3, with potential public health implications. Vitamin D deficiency is a serious global health problem affecting approximately one billion people worldwide and can increase the risk of developing diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Although humans can synthesize vitamin D3 with exposure to sunlight, most of this vitamin comes from our diet. However, food sources are limited, especially plant ones. Researcher Cathie Martin of the John Innes Center, UK, and her colleagues modified a gene in tomatoes that encodes an enzyme (7-dehydrocholesterol reductase) that normally converts provitamin D3 into cholesterol. By modifying the gene, the authors were able to block this pathway, leading to the substantial accumulation of provitamin D3 in the fruits and leaves of the tomatoes, without affecting the growth, development or yield of the plants.

Pro-vitamin D3 can then be converted into vitamin D3 by treatment with UV-B light, or it can be used by the human body to synthesize vitamin D3 with exposure to UV-B rays. The quantities of provitamin D3 in a pomodoro modified – when converted to vitamin D3 – would be equal to the levels found in two medium-sized eggs or 28 grams of tuna. Eating these tomatoes, they say, could therefore help meet the daily vitamin D3 needs of children and adults. The authors conclude that this strategy could inspire further crop engineering research to increase vitamin D3 levels in plants.

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