What's Up, Docs? Supercarrot Is on the Way

updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bugs Bunny never had it so good. After four years of experimentation at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, geneticist Philipp Simon, 36, and horticulturist Clinton Peterson, 70, have created a supercarrot, "genetically selected and altered to have improved flavor and nutritional value."

Dubbed Beta III, the supercarrot is shaped like the ordinary version but packs five times the amount of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. This development could be a boon to regions of the Third World where children suffer from impaired vision and low resistance to infection because of an inadequate diet. "Worldwide each year vitamin A deficiency causes 10 million new cases of night blindness and one million cases of cloudy vision," says Simon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently sponsoring tests in South Asia and Central Africa to adapt Beta III to local soil conditions. Individuals could improve their eyesight, Simon notes, by eating just two Beta III carrots a week.

Though vitamin A deficiency is not a major problem in the U.S., there is evidence that high levels of carotene in the diet may inhibit the development of cancer. "We don't know when Beta III will be available in U.S. grocery stores," says Simon. "But as a result of our research, the carotene level in U.S. carrots will surely increase during the next five to 10 years."

Simon and Peterson are tops among carrot researchers, who number fewer than a dozen worldwide. Between them, the pair has written more than 80 papers on the subject. Simon's enthusiasm for carrots is shared by his wife, Sandy Larson, a veterinary student and mother of their 5-year-old twins. Peterson's wife, Margerie, who has raised five carrot-conscious children, 29 to 40, also has been won over; she has a carrot each morning for breakfast. Eating too many carrots could turn your skin orange, Simon says, but unlike vitamin A supplements, "too many carrots are never toxic." Still, Simon and Peterson admit that during a day spent taste-testing carrots they prefer to spend more time reflecting than swallowing. "You have to spit out the carrots," explains Simon. "Otherwise you get too darn full."

From Our Partners