Experimental cultivation of vitamin D tomatoes in England

Researchers at the John Innes Center in the United Kingdom have used the Crispr / Cas9 genetic engineering technique to treat tomatoes in such a way that they enrich the fruit and leaves with vitamin D. The first field trials begin in June. If the British plan to loosen the rules for new genetic engineering, tomatoes could be on the market soon. Genetic engineering critics doubt they can actually provide people with vitamin D.

Tomatoes naturally contain very small amounts of 7-dehydrocholesterol. The substance is also called provitamin D3 because vitamin D3 develops from it when exposed to ultraviolet light. In researching metabolic processes in tomatoes, the researchers found that the enzyme converts 7-dehydrocholesterol to other plant substances, esculeosides. They help tomatoes fight pests and pathogens. A team from the John Innes Center (JIC), led by Professor Cathie Martin, has now used Crispr / Cas9 to silence the gene that produces the enzyme. As a result, 7-dehydrocholesterol has accumulated in the leaves and fruits of manipulated tomato plants – while the content of esculeosides has decreased significantly.

When tomatoes treated in this way were irradiated with UV light (which the sun must do outside), 7-dehydrocholesterol in the fruit was converted to vitamin D3. In a study published in the journal Nature Plants, JIC researchers calculated that a person with such a tomato consumes just as much vitamin D as eating two eggs or 28 grams of tuna. In addition, vitamin D3 in the leaves could be processed into dietary supplements. Tomato is therefore suitable for compensating for the poor supply of vitamin D, which according to the study affects a billion people. Other closely related plants that share the same metabolic pathway, such as eggplant, potatoes and peppers, could also be made to accumulate vitamin D using this method, a JIC press release said. Especially during a coronavirus pandemic, good vitamin D levels have been shown to be important for health.

According to experience from the greenhouse study, gene cut-off did not have a negative effect on plant growth, development and yield. Whether this also applies to the field remains to be seen. The Munich Testbiotech Institute warns that genetic engineering’s intervention in their protective mechanism could make tomatoes more susceptible to disease and pests. Other interactions with the environment should also be explored. For tomatoes themselves, it should be checked that the intervention has not inadvertently changed ingredients or disrupted other metabolic pathways. Finally, Testbiotech points out that the concentration of vitamin D in tomatoes can vary considerably depending on the variety and environmental conditions. In the journal Nature, the researchers comment that further research is needed on how stable the vitamin is in tomatoes when they are stored or processed. It is also necessary to clarify how well the human body can absorb the vitamin from tomatoes. Testbiotech writes in such a reliable way, writes.

In order to identify possible risks to health or the environment in good time, the institute calls for a detailed examination of the risks of these genome-modified plants. Liz O’Neill, general manager of GM Freeze’s anti-GMO organization, says the new tomato is simply redundant: “Adding an ‘obscure tomato’ will not solve the problem of vitamin D deficiency because poor nutrition is the result of poverty and a broken food system.” We need a change in the system, not genetically modified ketchup, “O’Neill said. [lf/vef]

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