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Could designer tomatoes solve global vitamin D deficiency?

May 24, 2023

Vitamin D is vital for health, but it can be hard to get enough from the sun and diet alone. Now, a team of British researchers has genetically modified tomatoes to produce vitamin D.


A research team in the UK has genetically modified tomatoes with tiny “genetic scissors” called CRISPR/Cas9. The scientists also changed a molecule that tomatoes already have: provitamin D3, a close relative of vitamin D. Provitamin D3 is a building block of vitamin D, vitamin D3 to be exact. That's the one we need to stay healthy.

An enzyme found in tomato cells would normally use the provitamin D3 to produce cholesterol. But the genetic scissors stop the enzyme in its tracks, meaning provitamin D3 can be used to build vitamin D. When provitamin D3 is hit by the sun's rays, it's magically transformed into vitamin D3.

A solution for vitamin D deficiency?

Each gene-edited fruit produced by the research team contains around two micrograms of vitamin D inside it. Eating between two-and-a-half and seven of these tomatoes daily would provide us with the daily amount recommended by the World Health Organization.

The new tomato variants are now being tested in field trials to see if they have any growth defects and if they have an equivalent harvest. They are also being tested on humans to see if they can absorb the vitamin D. If the new tomatoes succeed, they might play a role in fighting vitamin D deficiency worldwide.

Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine