(ORDO NEWS) — Around the world, about a billion people suffer from a lack of vitamin D3, which is vital for normal bone development, tooth protection and immune system function. Now they will have the opportunity to make up for its deficiency by eating genetically modified tomatoes.
Hunger is still one of the main problems of mankind. About a third of the world’s population suffers from a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, and this “hidden hunger” especially affects the population of developing countries, which leads to significant socio-economic consequences.
The most common deficiency is iron, zinc, provitamin A, folic acid and iodine: the lack of these substances leads to the development of various diseases, including cancer, and a general deterioration in health.
At present, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are most commonly corrected through nutritional supplements, such as vitamin capsules for children, and fortified foods, such as iodized salt, but nutritionists’ greatest hopes lie in expanding the diet and increasing the content of beneficial micronutrients in crops. .
In the context of global climate change, we are increasingly talking about a complete change in the food system, which should now be aimed not only at providing food for mankind, but also at preserving fragile natural ecosystems.
With the help of biotechnological methods, it is possible to reduce human dependence on animal products by increasing the nutritional value of plants: for example, relatively recently, rapeseed (Brassica napus) has been obtained with a high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which can serve as an alternative to fish oil.
In a new article published in Nature Plants, an international team of scientists reported on the production of biofortified tomatoes with an increased content of vitamin D3. This vitamin plays a key role in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, and also increases the body’s resistance to viral diseases.
Its deficiency can lead to childhood rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis; in addition, there is evidence of the effect of a lack of this vitamin on the development of neurological, cardiovascular, viral and autoimmune diseases, as well as cancerous tumors.
Although vitamin D3 can be produced in human skin by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, exposure to direct sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer, and the effectiveness of vitamin production is highly dependent on the presence of sunscreen and skin type.
As a result, it is much safer to make up for this deficiency by eating foods fortified with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC), a provitamin that spontaneously isomerizes in our body to cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3.
Pro-vitamin 7-DHC is present in the leaves and unripe green fruits of the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), but is very low in ripe tomatoes. The authors “corrected” the genes responsible for converting 7-DHC into cholesterol by blocking this metabolic pathway, and the provitamin began to accumulate in ripe tomatoes.
As a result, the thus obtained modified tomatoes contained up to 2 μg of 7-DHC, which was successfully converted into vitamin D3 when irradiated with UV light.
The modified plants did not show significant changes in the morphology or composition of fruits, and with an alternative genome modification, it is possible to obtain tomatoes containing up to 10 μg of 7-DHC – that is, to meet the daily requirement of the body for vitamin D3, it will be enough to eat one or two fruits.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go from obtaining modified plants to their mass introduction into production: first, it will be necessary to assess how well provitamin is preserved in ripe fruits during storage and processing, how well it is absorbed by the human body, and whether the intervention of genetic engineers has affected plant physiology, in particular , on its resistance to stress.
The latter factor may be the most important, as crops are under increasing pressure in a changing climate, but the new study is, in any case, an extremely important step towards providing the population with nutritious food.
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