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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Orange Cauliflower

Air Date: Week of

Is it a cauliflower, is it an orange or is it...both? (Courtesy of Cornell University)

Scientists at Cornell University find the mutation that gives orange cauliflower its color and high nutritional value. As Lauren Cox reports, they hope to use this knowledge to make other crops more nutritious for developing nations.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Coming up, getting bit by the travel bug, almost literally. First this Note on Emerging Science from Lauren Cox.


COX: What’s orange, crunchy, healthy and delicious? Not just the carrot anymore.

Some 30 years ago, a Canadian farmer discovered small orange cauliflower growing in his white cauliflower field. The farmer’s curiosity led to decades of cross breeding which finally brought a larger, tastier version of the orange cauliflower to supermarkets. Now, researchers at Cornell University have discovered the genetic mutation that gives the cauliflower its orange hue, and they hope to harness its nutritional value for other crops.

Is it a cauliflower, is it an orange or is it...both? (Courtesy of Cornell University)

The orange in the cauliflower – and in carrots – comes from beta-carotene. Our bodies use beta-carotene to make vitamin A, which helps our immune system and eyesight. The orange cauliflower has at least 25 times more beta-carotene than white cauliflower, and more than many staple crops. Staple crops like maize, potatoes, rice and wheat are low in beta-carotene, so people in developing countries who depend on staple crops often have a vitamin A deficiency, which is the leading cause of blindness in children.

The Cornell scientists hope to take the gene that gave the cauliflower its orange hue and insert it into staple crops to make them more nutritious. They already have an orange potato in the works.

And there are other advantages to being orange. The orange cauliflower has antioxidants that help protect the plant through stressful climate conditions. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Lauren Cox.



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