Healthier carrots developed by A.R.S.

by Keith Nunes
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HOUSTON — Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service’s Children’s Nutrition Research Center (C.N.R.C.) are using a technique to add calcium to carrots. The researchers believe the technique may be used with other types of produce in order to enhance nutrient content.

At the C.N.R.C., professors of pediatrics Kendal Hirschi and Steven Abrams boosted calcium levels by inducing carrots to express increased levels of the gene sCAX1, which enables the transport of calcium across plant cell membranes.

To determine the bioavailability of the calcium in the modified carrots, 30 volunteers — 15 females and 15 males of various ethnic backgrounds and in their early to late 20s — ate single meals containing regular or modified carrots, which were labeled with a stable isotope of calcium.

After two weeks, the researchers found that the calcium intake of the volunteers who consumed the modified carrots increased by 41% compared to those who ate regular carrots.

"We are always looking at ways to increase the nutrient content in foods," said Mr. Hirschi, who has been working on this type of research for the past 7 years, in an interview with Agricultural Research magazine, which is published by the A.R.S. "This is the first time a genetically enhanced food has been tested in clinical human feeding trials for increased nutrition, and the results were positive: We found we had indeed made a healthier carrot. Obviously, this is a prototype of what we want to develop in the future, but the early work is encouraging."

Additional information on the A.R.S.’s research may be found by visiting www.ars.usda.gov/news.

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