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"Visionary" carrots take root.

"Eat your carrots," many a mother has admonished her child. "They're good for your eyes."

Mom was-and is-right. They are. Shortly after the discovery of vitamin A in 1913, scientists determined that carrots were a good source of the vitamin. Later they learned that lack of vitamin A was the major cause of night blindness, damage to eye tissues, blindness, and even death, particularly in children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 500,000 children around the world become partially or totally blind every year because of vitamin A deficiency. The problem is particularly acute where rice, which contains no vitamin A, is a dietary staple.,

But a new carrot, Beta Ill, could change that.- Beta Ill contains three to five times the beta carotene found in carrots we eat today. Carotene, the pigment that gives carrots their color, is converted by the lining of the intestine into vitamin A. Of all carotenes, beta-carotene conversion produces the greatest amount of vitamin A.

Because of the high incidence of blindness and other vitamin A deficiency-related problems in underdeveloped countries, Beta III seed is being given to them, free of charge.

Louis Pasteur once said, "Chance favors the prepared mind," and that is what occurred for geneticist Phillip W. Simon, Ph.D., and horticulturist Clinton E. Peterson, Ph.D. (deceased), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists at the Vegetable Crops Research Lab, University of Wisconsin, in 1983.

"Initial research was directed to developing a carrot that was resistant to leaf blight fungi," Simon says. "We crossed a Japanese carrot with a U.S. carrot. The result was a carrot that we conservatively estimated contained three times the beta carotene of typical carrots."

According to Simon, the new carrot, Beta III, marked a unique genetic selection, because its carotene level was far higher than that of either of its parents. "Because of its appearance, Beta III seemed to have little commercial appeal," Simon says, "but we immediately realized its potential for relief of vitamin A deficiency."

Following additional field studies in California and Florida, USDA released Beta Ill seed to seedsmen and breeders for further trials in 1986. Simon sent samples to researchers in Kenya, Nigeria, India, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines for evaluation. Beta III seed was made available to any seed company that wanted some.

Prior to his death, Peterson contacted Asgrow Seed Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a worldwide producer of commercial vegetable seed, and emphasized the value of Beta III in reducing vitamin A deficiency. He also sought Asgrow's help in getting more of the seed produced and assistance in testing it around the world.

"We were interested in Beta III because Asgrow is continually improving the nutritional value of its vegetable varieties," Asgrow's president, Giuseppe Chicco, says. "We began producing Beta III seed for sampling purposes and arranged testing in various countries through charitable organizations. "

Keith P. West, Jr., Dr. P.H., R.D., an assistant professor at the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology of Johns Hopkins University and WHO's Collaborative Centre for the Prevention of Blindness and Vitamin A Deficiency, examined Beta III from the standpoint of children's requirements for vitamin A.

In a report to Asgrow, West stated, "The Beta III may be considered a wonder food in terms of vitamin A content. "

West pointed out that one two-ounce Beta III carrot provides four to five times the recommended dietary allowance RDA for vitamin A for American children one to six years of age. " means at a child need only eat one-fourth of a cooked [Beta III] carrot each day to satisfy his full day's vitamin A allowance," he stated.

News of Beta III spread through scientific publications and conferences on vitamin A in the United States and Ethiopia, and the carrots gathered converts each step of the way. Disciples contacted numerous embassies, government agencies, and charitable organizations.

"More than 40 organizations, a Who's Who of charitable groups, have requested Beta III seed," Chicco says. "More than 30 countries in Central and South America, the West Indies, Asia, and Africa have received Beta III seed for planting. "

The National Research Council recently reported studies suggesting that carotene also may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Dr. Simon continues his work and has developed carrot breeding stock with seven times the carotene of today's carrots. Eventually, Asgrow plans to market high-vitamin-A carrots under the Vita-Bunch label so consumers can distinguish them from other types.

The last chapter in the story of the Beta III carrot and its offspring is yet to be written.

The SatEvePost Society arranged with Asgrow to make the seed available to our supporters (see page 88). Directions for growing the carrots and an account of the charitable organizations helping make this product available for children everywhere will be included with the packages. The carrots need 90 days of growth from planting to harvest. This will allow sufficient time in many areas to sow a crop for a 1989 harvest.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:hybrid very high in beta carotene distributed to vitamin-A-poor countries
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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