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Vitamin B12 boost for vegetarians

vitamin B

Scientists at the University of Kent have discovered that the vitamin content of some plants can be improved to make vegetarian and vegan diets more complete. Vitamin B12 (known as cobalamin) is an essential dietary component but vegetarians are more prone to B12 deficiency as plants neither make nor require this nutrient.

A team, led by Professor Martin Warren at the University’s School of Biosciences, has proved that common garden cress can take up cobalamin. The amount of B12 absorbed by garden cress is dependent on the amount present in the growth medium.

The observation that certain plants are able to absorb B12 is important as such nutrient-enriched plants could help overcome dietary limitations in countries, such as India, which have a high proportion of vegetarians. It may also be significant as a way to address the global challenge of providing a nutrient-complete vegetarian diet, a valuable development as the world becomes increasingly meat-free due to population expansion.

Researchers worked with teachers and pupils at Sir Roger Manwood’s School in Sandwich, who grew garden cress in media containing increasing concentrations of vitamin B12. After seven days growth, the leaves from the seedlings were removed, washed and analysed.

The seedlings were found to absorb cobalamin from the growth medium and to store it in their leaves. To confirm this initial observation, the scientists made a type of vitamin B12 that emits fluorescent light when activated by a laser. This fluorescent B12 was fed to the plants and was found to accumulate within the leaf cell vacuole, providing definitive evidence that some plants can absorb and transport cobalamin.

Vitamin B12 is unique among the vitamins because it is made only by certain bacteria and therefore has to undergo a journey to make its way into more complex multi-cellular organisms. The research highlights how this journey can be followed using the fluorescent B12 molecules, which can also be used to help understand why some people are more prone to B12-deficiency.

The research is published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology[4].

References

4. www.cell.com/cell-chemical-biology/fulltext/S2451-9456(18)30142-9

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