Researchers at Texas A&M have developed carrots that have more bio-available calcium than wild-type carrots, according to a press release. Calcium deficiency leads to osteoporosis, which is one of the world’s most common diseases – affecting an estimated 50% of women and 25% of men. This is especially true when dairy is not an option for many people due to cost, allergies, or availability. Vegetables generally do not provide much of the calcium in a healthy diet, so a plant based diet typically must have some other source for calcium, such as diary or calcium fortified foods. The gene they modified is a transporter that moves calcium into cells, called sCAX1 (N-terminal autoinhibitory domain truncated version of CAtion eXchanger 1). Normally, the gene encodes a sort of label that tells the protein where it should go, attached to the Nitrogen terminal end of the protein. Removing the label lets the transporter accumulate in cells in the edible part of the plant, resulting in higher calcium levels. A similar strategy has been previously used in potatoes. In a human feeding study, those fed the modified carrots absorbed 41% more calcium than those fed wild-type carrots. As the authors of the study say, this amount of calcium is still not enough to satisfy daily nutritional requirements, but it is a step towards alleviating calcium deficiency.
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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!