In addition to people on a plant-based diet, residents of countries in high latitudes experience vitamin D deficiency. Why? They aren’t exposed to enough UVB radiation to help the body convert a precursor into a form of usable vitamin D.
Tomatoes make that precursor naturally, and “two groups thought some genetic tweaking could turn them into an animal-free source of the vitamin,” Science wrote.
In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Plants, researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to genetically alter tomatoes. By deleting one gene, they were able to create a fruit with 20% of the U.K.’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin D.
A second study, by scientists in Seoul, found that deleting a related gene produced a tomato with even more vitamin D precursor. This study is not yet peer reviewed.
Although the modified tomatoes have been grown only in laboratories so far, both groups said they plan to begin field tests in the next few months to see how well the fruits do in real-world settings.
Eating a tomato is “so much better than taking a pill,” Cathie Martin, a professor at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, and co-author of the published study, said at a news briefing.
“I think that having a dietary source in the form of a plant also means that you can get added benefit from eating tomatoes. We don’t eat enough fruit and veg anyway. A tomato is a good source of vitamin C, as well,” she added.
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