Molecular biologists say they have identified a gene in ripe strawberries that could help create vitamin-drenched, transgenic food of the future.
The gene, called GalUR, encodes an enzyme in strawberry plants that helps to convert a protein called D-galacturonic acid to vitamin C, according to a study led by Victoriano Valpuesta, of Spain's University of Malaga, which is published Sunday in a specialist journal, Nature Biotechology.
They tested the same gene in a weed called thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), which is the best-researched plant in the world because its genetic code has been fully unravelled. Genes that had been tweaked to overexpress the enzyme churned out two or three times the amount of ascorbic acid, as vitamin C is called.
Other plants that use these genes could be engineered so that they too have high vitamin levels, the study suggests.
"Vitamin C is the single most important specialty chemical manufactured in the world," it said. "The identification of the GalUR gene provides a new tool whose commercial application may have a substantial impact on the production of this highly valuable compound."
The first generation of this technology is widely used in the US but is widely opposed in Europe. It entails introducing genes that confer financial benefits for the producer, such as exuding proteins that kill pests or resist herbicides or prolong a fruit's shelf life. The second generation, which is still in the experimental stage, entails crops, such as bananas or rice, with genes that boost nutrition.