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Meddling With Carrots January 16, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
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A new ‘supercarrot’ has been created by scientists in the United States. Why is it considered so super? It has been genetically engineered to provide more calcium. In this case, a gene in the carrot is modified, so that the calcium can better cross over the plant membranes. Scientists hope that including the carrot in the average diet could help to prevent diseases related to poor calcium intake, such as osteoporosis.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and included team member Kendal Hirschi of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Hirschi hopes that the carrot may eventually provide a more nutritious way to obtain enough quantities of calcium each day.

Comparing The Old Versus The New

A person consuming the new carrot would absorb 41 percent more calcium than someone eating a standard carrot. The recommended calcium allowances vary from one country’s guidelines to another, but generally 1000 to 1500 mg is recommended, depending on your age. Dairy products are commonly suggested as a good source of calcium but unfortunately, many people are allergic to them or perhaps choose to avoid them for other reasons such as vegetarianism.

It’s Not Without Controversy

There is still a lot of controversy around genetically engineered foods. Many people consider it wrong to ‘mess with nature,’ and they cite worries about long-term effects, particularly because the technology is still relatively new. Others believe that packing more vitamin and mineral punch into certain foods can help ensure people obtain the daily recommended allowances of vitamins and minerals. There is also support for genetically engineered foods in terms of increasing the nutritional value of the foods that are dominant in the diets of people in developing countries. It’s so important to eat a varied diet to get all the nutrients you need but when you factor in poverty and food shortages, it could make a difference if a staple food is engineered to provide greater nutrition.

At the same time, our world has plenty of food but it’s poorly distributed. Some people against genetically engineered foods believe that we should focus on finding ways to ensure everyone has access to a wide range of foods, instead of tampering with the foods to change their nutritional value. Either way, a lot more research will have to happen before this ‘supercarrot’ becomes a reality. The fear of Frankenstein-like foods is not a completely unfounded one. While the idea behind genetic engineering is potentially beneficial, we have to make sure the reality is one we can all handle and live with!

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1. sciencebase - January 18, 2008

It’s quite ironic that they’ve made a carrot that boost your calcium intake in the same week that there’s a warning about the risk of cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women taking calcium to improve their bone density.

Of course the heart risk figures don’t stack up, it’s fractions of a percentage point increased risk and that has to be offset against the much greater risk of a hip fracture leading to an MRSA infection in hospital!


2. Miss Weird Scientist - January 18, 2008

You’ve eloquently summed up why it’s so confusing and exhausting for much of the public (and us science geek types) to keep up with the constant barrage of conflicting information in the field. Ultimately, I think in this case, it’s a matter of personally weighing the projected risks.

Also, one has to wonder if a post-menopausal woman could also look at ways to reduce her cardiovascular disease risk (eg. exercise, choosing foods lower in saturated fats) that might ‘smooth’ out (no pun intended) the increased risk from a supplement or genetically modified carrot.

3. David Bradley - January 22, 2008

Yes, exercise, less fat, all those things reduce the “statistical risk”, but as with all epidemiology, it’s purely about the masses, not individuals. You may be one of the rare individuals in the world for whom exercise and a low fat diet actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because of the particular balance of enzymes and your body type. No one knows. Everyone’s got a relative who drank like a fish, smoked 20 a day, and lived a happy life into their 90s, but every doctor knows dozens more who did the same and died young…


4. Miss Weird Scientist - January 22, 2008

Sure. We know that science is imperfect in the sense that there are always exceptions to the statistical masses. For now though, it’s the best chance we have to encourage health for the majority.

Here’s hoping I’m one of the majority….. :p

5. Wong Wilson - January 23, 2010


Can anyone tell me about the genetic make up of the Juwarot Carrot?

What did they cross this carrot with to arrive at this super carrot?

Thank You.


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