You say tomato, scientists say "fewer birth defects."
U.S. researchers say they've created a folic acid-enriched "super tomato" that could cut the rate of birth defects, anemia and other folate deficiency-linked problems in the developing world.
"We used the tomato, because it is a very good model to work with," explained study co-author Andrew D. Hanson, professor of plant biochemistry at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "Now we want to move the strategy we have developed into cereal and tuber crops such as sweet potatoes."
Hanson's group published its findings in this week's Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.
Folate deficiency is associated with birth defects such as spina bifida and also with heart disease and some cancers. Grain products in the United States and other western countries are now fortified with folic acid, and pregnant women are advised to take folate supplements if necessary.
Unfortunately, folic acid supplies are much harder to come by in less developed countries, Hanson said, so genetically engineered crops could help prevent deficiency in those areas.
Hanson worked in close collaboration with Jesse F. Gregory III, professor of food science and human nutrition at UF. They targeted two molecular pathways by which tomatoes (and other plants) make folate -- one that produces a molecule called pteridine, the other producing another molecule, p-aminobenzoate (PABA). Those two molecules eventually become linked in the process that creates folate.