Scientists create super-nutritious strawberries

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fruit

Researchers have developed a method for enhancing the nutritional
value of alpine strawberries - which could prove popular with
consumers anxious to increase their vitamin intake.

A team from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) has found a way to transfer nutrient-enhancing DNA into the genome of the common strawberry.

Together with the Horticulture Department at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture, the researchers have extracted plant tissue from the Fragaria vesca variety six weeks after seed germination, and successfully transferred specific DNA sequences rich in Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). The tissue then grew into fledging plants more rich in antioxidants.

The small size of the F. vesca plant and its short reproductive cycle makes it an ideal candidate for the technology, which is currently undergoing large-scale studies.

VBI Professor Vladimir Shulaev said: "The development of this protocol for strawberry represents a key milestone for researchers interested in improving strawberry and other fruit crops through genomics."

A recent report by food trend tracker Center for Culinary Development (CCD) claims certain nutrient-rich fruits, or "superfruits" - such as pomegranates and blueberries- are becoming more popular with American consumers.

The VBI genomics trial, which greatly enhances antioxidant properties, "is the result of innovation and great attention to experimental detail"​ according to Herb Aldwinkle of Cornell University, and could herald a new era of genetically altered "superfruits".

And the humble strawberry may be well poised to take advantage of growing trends for wellbeing diets, and an increased demand for fresh fruit. In a study published by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in late 2003, eight strawberry strains were analyzed for their content of protective plant compounds and antioxidant capacities.

Although the various plants tested contained differing amounts of beneficial compounds, each variety was shown to inhibit the growth of human liver cancer cells.

But strawberries have long been known as a rich source of phenols, providing potent antioxidants that help protect cell structures and prevent oxygen damage in all of the body's organs.

Their unique phenol content makes them not only a heart-protective fruit, but also an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory fruit.

Datamonitor analyst John Band acknowledged that demand for fresh produce, particularly exotic fruits and soft varieties, is climbing in America, amidst growing public health concerns.

"Sales of premium fruit are on the rise in the US, as are sales of ethnic food in general. Exotic fruits, which combine the perceived authenticity and flavor intensity benefits of ethnic foods with the health and quality benefits of premium fruit, are set to grow in future years, driven by consumers' desire for greater healthiness, authenticity and flavor,"​ he said.

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