Sept. 4 - Scientists at the University of Florida are producing healthier and better tasting fruits and vegetables by exposing them to different types of light. The results of their experiments, published online in the journal, Postharvest Biology and Technology, could have significant implications for consumers. Ben Gruber reports.
These tomatoes are basking under an intense red light...researchers say it will make them taste better. Kevin Folta says light is not only responsible for photosynthesis but can also be manipulated with different wavelengths to dramatically alter the properties of plants. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KEVIN FOLTA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HORTICULTURE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, SAYING: "So we are able to make something potentially taste a lot better just by changing its light environment which is exciting. We can also take something like sprouts and apply light to make them taste absolutely horrible, but at the same time, increase their antioxidants, increase their attractive colours and change what's even considered anti-cancer compounds, just by changing the type of light." Folta is using LEDs to generate different types of light, everything from UV to far red wavelengths that the human eye can't see. The goal is to find the types of light or combination of lights best suited to improving the taste and nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. He says different wavelengths of light can be used to control how volatile compounds, which produce taste and aroma in plants, express themselves and that in the future, grocery stores could be fitted with an array of LED's, allowing grocers to intensify the smell of their produce during peak shopping times. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KEVIN FOLTA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HORTICULTURE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, SAYING: "It would be a specific regimen that would hold back all of the aromas and smells during the evening hours and pool those metabolites and pool them together and release them in the morning when the doors would open. It might be something that we see in our refrigerators or some sort of special chamber at home. This is the excitement for us is that it might work on post-harvest fruit, we know it works on post-harvest fruit. You harvest it, you put it onto some sort of retail format and you can still manipulate that living tissue." Folta's research colleague Thomas Colohoun, says manipulating tissue is very different to altering a plants genetic makeup. He says the team is focused on producing tastier and more nutritious plants without the controversy of genetic modification. THOMAS COLOHOUN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HORTICULTURE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, SAYING: "We are only manipulating what light that plant sees. So when that plant sees light its metabolism is completely different from when the plant sees no light. All we are doing is somewhere in between and therefore this is why it is non-invasive to a natural product." The team says it will take a lot more research to figure out which wavelengths have the best effects on specific plants. But they are certain that through their work, consumers will one day see fruits and vegetables in a new light.