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New-age tomatoes tackle vitamin deficiency

B-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, has been shown to exhibit a series of properties beneficial to humans, including potential anti-inflammatory effects and possibly lowering the risk of certain cancers. Elevating levels of B-carotene contained in food products could benefit consumers and also offer a viable new alternative to chemical synthesis methods.
New-age tomatoes tackle vitamin deficiency
B-carotene is produced by the enzymatic conversion of lycopene in tomato fruits and in other tissues. An Italian-based company has addressed the issue of B-carotene content in tomatoes by genetically over-expressing the enzyme responsible for the conversion of lycopene. The result has been a new tomato genotype, now referred to as HighCaro (HC) Tomato.

HC Tomato forms part of a functional foods project and can be used to combat vitamin A deficiency and also serve as a bio-factory for the large scale production of B-carotene. It is a genetically modified plant and its transgenic properties are not only limited to B-carotene production. Agricultural studies have shown that HC tomato plants can tolerate reduced-water conditions better than control plants, which make them ideal for areas where water is a limiting factor.

Furthermore, even though HC tomatoes contain similar amounts of B-carotene to other vegetables, like carrots, tomatoes are more adaptable to varied environmental conditions and show greater productivity per hectare. These characteristics render them more attractive compared to other B-carotene-containing vegetables. In addition, their high water content facilitates purification procedures in production settings.

The developers are now seeking potential partners to scale-up production and launch marketing efforts for the final product. Patents have been applied for and prototypes are available.
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