New technology could make veggies more fun

There are some who may argue that vegetables are pretty monochromatic compared with fruits. And it’s true — look at the vegetable side of your local store’s produce section, and you’ll see a lot of green.

However, food researchers are always looking for ways to liven things up — in terms of making plants easier grow, healthier to eat, and now, more interesting to look at.

Two food researchers described new breeding technology that seeks to shake up the way vegetables look in a recent journal article published in Trends in Plant Science. They explained how plants could be made to be more colorful, more uniquely shaped, or bigger, in a way that might attract consumers.

“Novelty drives a lot of first-time purchasing,” said researcher Andrew Allan. “If the experience is good, then the consumer will purchase again. Choice is key — there is no risk with more choice.”

The technology described is “fast breeding,” which unlike conventional gene editing, doesn’t involve adding new DNA sequences. In fast breeding, scientists edit the already-existing genes that control how a plant looks. Breeders can also use knowledge of the genes to make selective breeding decisions to create stronger plants.

These genes are called MYBs, and in some cases, they also impact the flavor and nutrient-giving capabilities of plants.

“MYBs often regulate the compounds that generate a fruit or vegetable’s ‘wow’ factor — it’s color,” said Allan. “These compounds are also associated with important health benefits such as lowering cardiovascular disease or acting as vitamins. By using MYBs to elevate these compounds to create a richer color, we can make produce both more appealing to consumers and more beneficial to the human diet.”

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