New Carrot Breed May Combine All Phytochemicals

Carrot experts Dr Leonard Pike (l.)
and assistant Michael Faries (r.)
© Texas A&M University

Texas University agricultural researcher Dr. Leonard Pike eventually obtained some rare yellow carrot seed on a seed-collecting mission in Russia for his own planting trials and harvested the crop about a month ago. In a processing room at Texas A&M University recently, Pike's yellow yield were stacked up against maroon, red and improved orange carrots for strenuous tests to see which would make it to the next step in breeding.

"The interest is more than the colour," says Pike, known for developing popular products such as the 1015 onion and Beta Sweet maroon carrots. "Each of those colours indicates that a certain phytochemical is present. My goal is to get one carrot that has them all."

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds that prevent disease. Pike hopes to pack lutein, carotene, anthocyanin and lycopene into one carrot, regardless of what colour - or colour combination - the carrot turns out to be. Each of those compounds has been shown to ward off various diseases and improve health.

Breeding a better carrot is important, he said, because adding value to something people already eat plenty of means they could be healthier. Americans eat more than five pounds of carrots a year, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service.

Deciding which carrots to keep in the breeding program is no small effort. Pike, research assistant Michael Faries and several students first washed the 250 bushels harvested from a South Texas field, sorted for conformity, tasted for flavour and finally sliced off a chunk to analyse for sugar and phytochemical content.

From that, some 80 bushels will planted by mid-April in selectively arranged cages designed around individual hives of honeybees to allow carrots to pollinate without crossing with unintended varieties.

The process will be narrowed next year, and with the luck of a good growing season, the super-carrots might show up in grocery stores in another year.; Source: Texas A&M University