•The scientists are now evaluating whether sunshine, instead of ultraviolet light, can effectively convert 7-DHC to vitamin D3.
•Low vitamin D levels associated with a plethora of conditions from cancer to cardiovascular disease.
Getting enough vitamin D is a challenge for many of us, but scientists say these designer tomatoes may be the next solution.
A research team led by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich has edited the genetic makeup of tomatoes to become a robust source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is created in our bodies after skin's exposure to UVB light, but the major source is food especially dairy and meat.
Scientists are now evaluating whether sunshine, instead of ultraviolet light, can effectively convert 7-DHC to vitamin D3.
Vitamin D regulates nutrients like calcium that are imperative to keeping bones, teeth, and muscles healthy as well as improved resistance to certain diseases.
Low vitamin D levels associated with a plethora of conditions from cancer to cardiovascular disease which affect roughly 1 billion people globally, the researchers said.
Tomato leaves naturally contain one of the building blocks of vitamin D3, called 7-DHC. Vitamin D3 is considered best at raising vitamin D levels in the body.
The scientists used the Crispr tool - which is designed to work like a pair of genetic scissors - to tweak the plant's genome such that 7-DHC substantially accumulates in the tomato fruit, as well as the leaves.
When leaves and the sliced fruit were exposed to ultraviolet light for an hour, one tomato contained the equivalent levels of vitamin D as two medium-sized eggs or 28 grams (1 ounce) of tuna, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Nature Plants.
Most vitamin D3 supplements for vegan's come from lanolin, which is extracted from sheep's wool but since the sheep stays alive, it works for vegetarians, but not vegans.
New regulations in Britain have allowed the researchers to evaluate this theory - but it could be some time before they are ready to hit supermarket shelves.
To close the current gap in the intake of vitamin D from dietary sources, two medium-sized gene-edited tomatoes should be enough, said the study's lead author, Jie Li, adding that it is hard to tell a gene-edited tomato apart from a wild tomato.
Their study was published in the journal plants.
"They taste like tomatoes," added Cathie Martin, another study author.