Know Why Carrots Are Orange: Gene Found May Enhance Other Crops

By Alexie Summer, Parent Herald May 11, 04:12 am

A team of scientists recently deciphered the genetic code of carrots, revealing how it was domesticated by breeding practices. The findings also reveal how carrots acquired its distinctive orange color, indicating its superb abilities to accumulate carotenoids.

Carrots And Carotenoids

A team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon decoded the full genetic code of carrots. The findings can help boost the beta-carotene in carrots and the nutrients in other crops like lettuce and celery as well. The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics on Monday, Science Daily reported.

The good-for-your-eyes vegetable is known to be a rich source of carotenoids, which gives them a deep orange color. Beta-carotene belongs to a class of naturally occurring pigments called carotenoids, which give some fruits and vegetables its rich yellow, orange or red hue. Beta-carotene is converted by the human body into Vitamin A.

"The carrot has a good reputation as a crop and we know it's a significant source of nutrition -- vitamin A, in particular," Simon was quoted saying. "Now, we have the chance to dig deeper and it's a nice addition to the toolbox for improving the crop."

The Y-Gene In Carrots

ABC reported that the researchers found more than 32,000 genes in an ordinary carrot. In an attempt to find out how the modern carrots evolved, they sequenced the genomes of 35 varieties of carrots, which are a combination of both wild and cultivated. The researchers finally found the gene that gives carrots high levels of beta-carotene.

"We found that the Y-gene accounts for the accumulation of orange and yellow carotenoid pigments in carrot roots," Simon said, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service as well. He added that the Y-gene is one of the two genes blamed for changing the ancient white carrots into the orange ones we know today.

The Importance of Y-Gene In Carrots

"Vitamin A deficiency is a global health challenge," Discovery News cited. That's the reason that the rich content of carotenoids in carrots makes it an important part of the diet. Finding out the gene that makes carrots rich in nutrients will pave the way for researchers to enhance disease resistance and nutritive value in other species

Through gene editing, for example, it may become possible to import the nutrient to other staple root vegetables. "These results will facilitate biological discovery and crop improvement in carrots and other crops," Simon said.

Now you know why carrots have that deep orange color! To know other benefits of carrots, check out this video:

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