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expert reaction to GE tomatoes for Vitamin D

A study published in Nature Plants looks at biofortified tomatoes, providing a new route to vitamin D sufficiency.

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing.


Prof Guy Poppy, Professor of Ecology, University of Southampton, said:

“Vitamin D deficiency affects 1 billion people and causes wide ranging health impacts ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease. For those living in Northern Hemisphere (less sunny climates), it is hard to get Vitamin D from sunlight and we need it from our diet or supplements. Using the recently approved technique of gene editing, this is a really important breakthrough especially for those people eating more plant-based diets – most Vitamin D is found in meat and dairy foods. Gene-editing tomatoes to accumulate provitamin D3 at levels above recommended dietary guidelines could result in better health for many especially as tomatoes are a widely accessible and readily eaten food. This exciting discovery not only improves human health but contributes to the environmental benefits associated with more plant-based diets – often linked with a challenge in securing some key vitamins and minerals widely found and bioavailable in animal products.”


Professor Lesley Torrance, Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute, said:

“This paper is a very important contribution to show how gene editing techniques can be deployed for biofortification of food crops. Vitamin D deficiency causes serious human health problems and the best dietary sources of vitamin D are fish and dairy products.  This work demonstrates a genome editing approach to boost pro vitamin D3 in cultivated tomato (fruit and leaves) and that it can be converted to vitamin D3 by UVB light. Consumption of sun-dried tomatoes from these fruits would provide a good source of vitamin D for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. The tomato leaf tissue could also be processed to provide a source of vitamin D3. This approach may have wider application in crops of the same family, e.g. peppers and potato.” 


Quotes from other scientists at JIC but who are not connected with the tomatoes research:

Prof Wendy Harwood, Head of Crop Transformation Group at the John Innes Centre, said:

“This work demonstrates the power of genome editing to develop foods with valuable nutritional properties. The biofortified tomato could make an important contribution to tackling vitamin D deficiency and similar improvements should be possible in other food crops in a relatively short timescale.”


Dr Penny Hundleby, Senior Scientist, John Innes Centre, said:

“This is a beautiful piece of work that demonstrates how GE can be used to provide consumers with a plant based source of Vitamin D, either by consuming the fruit itself or as a supplement that makes use of the waste products of tomato production (the leaves). In a time when sadly more of us are spending increasing time indoors, covering up more when we do go outside/ and simply not spending enough time outside to generate our own sunshine vitamins, this product offers consumers a vegan friendly plant based source of Vitamin D.”

With food security, sustainability and climate change high on the agenda – making the foods we grow and eat as nutritious as possible, while also reducing waste, supports these goals.



Biofortified tomatoes provide a new route to vitamin D sufficiency’ by Jie Li et al. was published in Nature Plants at 4pm UK TIME on Monday 23 May 2022.




Declared interests

Prof Lesley Torrance has no interests to declare.

Prof Guy Poppy is Fellow of Academy of Medical Sciences, Companion of the Order of the Bath, Director of UKRI Transforming Food systems programme and Independent Science Director of Red Tractor

No others received.


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