Got Carrots?

The popular slogan "got milk?" could one day become "got carrots?" As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, a new calcium-rich carrot is under development and could become one of the first genetically modified foods on the consumer market.

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Most fruits and vegetables don't contain much calcium, not enough to make a difference in your diet anyway. But scientists at Texas A&M University genetically modified a carrot to pack a lot more calcium punch.

"You're looking at a 41 percent increase in calcium absorption from the modified carrots compared to the normal carrots."

That's Dr. Jay Morris, a post-doc researcher at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Morris is working with A&M to test the effects of the carrots in humans. American consumers haven't necessarily warmed up to the idea of buying mutated produce, but Morris says people in his studies, both children and adults, are eating normal-sized portions of the calcium-rich carrots and so far the results have been positive.

"The research and at least the technology behind the research is showing -- what we've shown here is that it seems to be something that's very fruitful in pursuing and appears to be able to be applied to many different fruits and vegetables."

Fruits and vegetables are rich in other vitamins and nutrients, so scientists are hoping adding calcium would further encourage consumers to eat their veggies. Scientists believe the modification could be easily translated to many foods including tomatoes, apples and oranges.

"You can see companies like Tropicana and Minute Maid have their calcium-fortified orange juice and you see calcium being added to lots of other commercially processed products, but this is a way to sort of add calcium in a natural food, like fruits and vegetables which are mostly consumed unprocessed, and increase the calcium that people will get from those foods."

Morris says calcium-enhanced produce won't be a replacement for dairy products, but could serve as a supplement to the calcium-poor American diet. So far, the carrots have only been hydroponically grown in a climate-controlled lab. The next step is to grow them on a larger scale in a field and see if scientists can recreate the same results. And since no one knows how the genetically altered carrots will react in nature, it could still be several years before you see super-vegetables in the grocery store. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.


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