Scientists have created a folic acid-enriched "super tomato” that they say could cut the rate of birth defects, anemia and other folate deficiency-linked problems.

"We used the tomato, because it is a very good model to work with." says study co-author Andre D. Hamson, professor of plant biochemistry at the University of Florida. "Now we want to move the strategy we have developed into cereal and tuber crops such as sweet potatoes'

Manipulating Molecules

This discovery could be a boon for nations where nutritional deficiencies are common. Inadequate folate is linked with birth defects such as spina bifida. heart disc se and some cancers. In the US, grain products are now fortified with folic acid, and pregnant women are advised to take folate supplements if necessary.

Hanson and colleague Jesse F. Gregory III targeted two molecular pathways by which tomatoes. as well as other plants, make folate. One produces a molecule called pteridine, the other producing another molecule, p-aminoberrayate (PABA). Those two molecules eventually become linked in the process that creates folate.

“Humans don't have the ability to produce parts of those pathways, which is why we require [folate] as a vitamin,* Gregory explains.

Biting Benefit

Their genetically engineered tomatoes, when ripened accordingly, contain 25 times more folate than normal, they report. "We have produced a few experimental plants," Hanson says. Now the goal is to show that the same increase in folate production in their tomatoes can be achieved in others plants that are dietary staples in underdeveloped countries.

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