John Innes Centre (JIC) scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 to shut off a molecule in tomato plants and increase the concentration of provitamin D3 in the fruits and leaves. The study, published in Nature Plants, provides a simple solution to the increasing number of individuals suffering from vitamin D insufficiency worldwide.
Vitamin D is naturally produced in human bodies after the skin is exposed to the UVB light of the sun, thus it is known as the sunshine vitamin. However, the major source of vitamin D precursors is food. Vitamin D insufficiency has been linked to increased severity of COVID-19 infection, higher risk of cancer, dementia, and several other diseases. Thus, the JIC researchers aimed to boost the provitamin D3 in tomato plants for producing plant-based vitamin D3 supplements or food fortification.
Using CRISPR-Cas9, the research team switched off the Sl7-DR2 enzyme to enable the accumulation of provitamin D3 7-dehydrocholesterol (7DHC). This led to a substantial increase of provitamin D3 in the leaves and fruits of edited plants. The edited plants were exposed to UVB light and the 7DHC was successfully converted into vitamin D. Sundrying the edited tomatoes could further boost the amount of vitamin D.
Blocking the enzyme in the tomato had no effect on growth, development or yield of the plants. Other closely related plants such as aubergine, potato and pepper have the same biochemical pathway so the method could be applied across these vegetable crops
Li, J., Scarano, A., Gonzalez, N.M. et al. Biofortified tomatoes provide a new route to vitamin D sufficiency. Nat. Plants (2022).
Source: Crop Biotech Update