Scientists in Spain have identified a gene in ripe strawberries that could help create vitamin-enriched food in the future, according to a report by ABC News.
The GalUR gene, encodes an enzyme in strawberry plants that helps to convert a protein called D-galacturonic acid to vitamin C, explains the report. Researchers led by Victoriano Valpuesta, at the University of Malaga, published their study in Nature Biotechnology.
They tested the same gene in the plant thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), which the ABC report notes is the best-researched plant in the world because its genetic code has been fully unravelled.
The researchers engineered genes to overexpress the enzyme produced two or three times the amount of ascorbic acid, according to the report. The study suggests that other plants that use these genes could also be engineered to produce high vitamin levels.
The researchers write: "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."
Of course, such genetically modified plants would face strong opposition in Europe.
The report also pointed to research carried out in 2000, when scientists developed lettuce with a higher than normal vitamin C content in lettuce by inserting a gene for the enzyme oxidase. However this gene came from a rat, causing significant problems.
The researchers believe that a strawberry gene might however win the public's confidence, concluded the report.