Some of the most easily recognizable vegetables on the planet, carrots have been around for more than a thousand years – domesticated carrots at least. Wild carrots have been around for millennia, but it’s only after they were domesticated that they truly began to make their mark on mankind’s culinary preferences.
Two of the things that fascinated scientists for a very long time are the orange color of the vegetables, as well as the superior health benefits they offer. Finally answering a bunch of thousand year old questions, scientists reveal the genetics behind the reason why carrots are orange and healthy.
Carrot gene sequencing
The study, published in the Nature Genetics journal, was led by the University of Wisconsin’s Phil Simon. The team conducted the genetic sequencing of the Nantes carrot, as well as that of 35 other carrot specimens and subspecies. The idea was to determine exactly how carrots evolved. The Nantes carrot alone had some 32,000 genes.
After completing the genetic sequencing, the team found that the DCAR_032551 gene was responsible for the vegetable’s very high concentration of beta-carotene, the substance that gives the vegetables their yellow, orange, or red color, as well as their very rich vitamin A content.
Further investigation only confirmed that DCAR_032551 conditions the accumulation of carotenoid in the carrot taproot and that it is expressed alongside several isoprenoid biosynthetic genes. Since vitamin A plays such a huge role in healthy vision, the immune system, and even in reproduction, scientists are now considering how to apply their newly found information.
More carrot tidbits
First of all, the team is planning to use the new data to reduce the global vitamin A deficiency. Not only are carrots easy to grow, but they also provide very large amounts of the vitamin. In fact, in a single square meter of land, you can grow enough carrots per year to feed half a dozen adults.
Second of all, scientists are considering using what they found out to genetically alter a number of other vegetables, such as celery, lettuce, or even cassava, to increase the amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin A they produce. This would greatly help communities suffering from vitamin A deficiency.
As for the history of the carrot, they were domesticated more than one thousand years ago, as purple and yellow carrots from over a millennium ago were discovered in Central Asia. It is assumed that orange carrots appeared in the 16th century in Holland as a result of interbreeding yellow and purple carrots. Some communities in South Asia and in the Middle East are still growing purple and yellow carrots.
Image source: Wikimedia