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Scientists genetically engineer tomatoes with enhanced folate content

Leafy greens and beans aren't the only foods that pack a punch of folate, the vitamin essential for a healthy start to pregnancy.

Researchers now have used genetic engineering--manipulating an organism's genes--to make tomatoes with a full day's worth of the nutrient in a single serving. The scientists published their results in this week's online edition of the journal PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This could potentially be beneficial worldwide," said Andrew Hanson, a plant biochemist at the University of Florida at Gainesville who developed the tomato along with colleague Jesse Gregory. "Now that we've shown it works in tomatoes, we can work on applying it to cereals and crops for less developed countries where folate deficiencies are a very serious problem."

Folate is one of the most vital nutrients for the human body's growth and development, which is why folate-rich diets are typically suggested for women planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant. Without it, cell division would not be possible because the nutrient plays an essential role in both the production of nucleotides--the building blocks of DNA--and many other essential metabolic processes.

Deficiencies of the nutrient have been linked to birth defects, slow growth rates and other developmental problems in children, as well as numerous health issues in adults, such as anemia.

"Folate deficiency is a major nutritional deficiency, especially in the developing world," said Parag Chitnis, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, which funded the research. "This research provides the proof-of-concept for the natural addition of folate to diet through enhancement of the folate content of fruits and vegetables."

The vitamin is commonly found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, but few people eat enough produce to get the suggested amount of folate. So, in 199
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
6-Mar-2007


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