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Eat an orange tomato; for Vitamin A.

Eat an Orange Tomato

The vitamin-conscious may someday want their tomatoes carrot orange instead of catsup red. ARS plant geneticist John R. Stommel is in the process of breeding a super-high-vitamin-A tomato, which is likely to be as orange as a carrot.

Large accumulations of beta-carotene, the precursor that the body converts to vitamin A, usually show up as orange coloring, explains Stommel. Both well-known orange vegetables - carrots and sweetpotatoes - are high in vitamin A.

This new tomato could easily be in the same range of vitamin A content as sweetpotatoes are, ounce for ounce, and about half that of the average carrot, Stommel expects.

To create the high-vitamin-A tomato, Stommel has crossed a commercially cultivated fresh market tomato called Floradade with a wild tomato from the Galapagos Islands, Lycopersicon cheesmanii.

Galapagos tomatoes bear clusters of beacon bright orange fruit, each about the size of a pencil eraser. "They're not terribly palatable, very bland and tasteless," says Stommel.

But the tiny fruit are 35 to 40 times higher in vitamin A than current commercial tomato varieties. They contain an average of 58 milligrams per gram of fresh weight of beta carotene compared to about 1.5 milligrams per gram in normal tomatoes.

Since the Galapagos tomato crosses directly with cultivated tomatoes, breeding has been relatively easy, Stommel says.

Fruit from the first generation of crosses is about 1 to 1-1/4 inch in diameter, is bright orange with red overtones, and contains about 30 milligrams of beta carotene per gram of fresh weight.

"Unlike the wild fruit of the Galapagos, which are quite bland, these have a very strong tomato taste, so flavor is not likely to be a problem in the finished version," Stommel says.

This summer, Stommel planted his first crop in field-test plots to see how they will do under natural conditions.

Stommel's tomato won't be the first orange tomato to be seen in the marketplace. A tangerine-colored tomato is available as a specialty product, but it does not have a high vitamin A content. The color comes from a gene not associated with beta carotene.

It will probably take about five or six more generations before Stommel will have a tomato ready to present to seed producers.

PHOTO : Plant geneticist John Stommel inspects fruit from his newly developed hybrid plant.

PHOTO : A high-vitamin-A hybrid is created when pollen from a wild Galapagos tomato is replaced by pollen from a standard tomato.
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Title Annotation:new carotene rich tomato variety
Author:Kaplan, J. Kim
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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