We all know that the humble carrot is a delicious and nutritious vegetable, but did you know it’s also one of only three plants in existence known to have originated from an artificial selection by humans — the other two being tomatoes and corn. But how exactly do we go about creating foodstuffs out of thin air?
In this article, we’ll answer whether or not carrots were created using genetic engineering techniques. We will look at what makes them so special, as well as where they come from, their history, and more. By the end, you should be ready for your next trip down the supermarket aisle with confidence!
What are Carrots?
Carrots (Daucus carota) are a root vegetable belonging to the Umbelliferae family-like parsnips and cabbages. The name “carrot” comes from its long taproot which looks something akin to a large white parsley plant growing up through the soil. It has foliage consisting mostly of leaves and greenish flowers. Most people eat just the edible portion of the carrot called the crown, which includes both leafy greens and top growth. This part is usually harvested when small and eaten raw or cooked very lightly, while the bottom portion, known as the taproot, is used for cooking because it contains most of the nutrients.
The average carrot weighs around 3 ounces (85 grams), measuring approximately 4 inches (10 cm) across. They’re available year-round, with peak season beginning in late winter/early spring depending on location due to varying climates. On average, each carrot can contain anywhere between 5 to 40 percent water content, making it difficult to determine exact weight without weighing individual pieces first. However, there may be some variation in size within each batch based on variety, harvest time, storage methods and even altitude.
Are Carrots Man-Made?
While many people think of carrots as simply tasty snacks, they actually serve important functions in our society including providing vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, fiber, calcium, iron, protein, carbohydrates and antioxidants. In fact, consuming five daily servings of vegetables helps reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and certain cancers such as breast cancer and colon cancer.
That said, not everyone likes eating them every day, especially those who prefer fresh salads over anything else. So let’s take a closer look at what makes these little gems so unique.
Carrots are grown underground, unlike potatoes and onions, which sprout above ground after planting. While this is beneficial for protecting the crop against frost and disease during cold seasons, it means farmers must dig deep into the dirt every few weeks to check for bugs and diseases.
Each piece of land typically produces several different varieties of carrots, allowing farmers to selectively choose the best ones to sell. Farmers generally pick the healthiest-looking carrots to maximize yield and quality, leaving behind less attractive specimens. After harvesting, the roots need to be cleaned before storing properly.
As mentioned earlier, moisture level varies widely among batches, so keeping them moist until sold is key. If stored too long, carrots become soft and moldy. Finally, once purchased, carrots are often packaged in plastic bags containing silica gel sheets to keep oxygen out.
So why would anyone want to genetically engineer carrots?
First off, carrots aren’t really easy to cultivate organically. Unlike lettuce or broccoli, carrots require lots of space to produce enough healthy yields to sustainably feed consumers worldwide. To ensure global supply, farmers must use chemicals to prevent pests and weed competition. Also, since carrot production requires digging holes deeper than 12 feet (3.6 meters), farmers spend hours removing weeds manually instead of running machinery. These tasks could easily be automated using GPS technology. Next, carrots don’t store particularly well and spoil quickly. Their low moisture content also makes dehydration a big problem. For example, dehydrated carrots tend to darken in color and lose crispness. Lastly, since carrot seeds are tiny, it takes hundreds of years for new strains to develop naturally, meaning that growers rely heavily on hybrids bred via cross pollination. With modern molecular biology tools, researchers can speed up the breeding process considerably, potentially saving farmers money and resources.
How to Grow Carrots
Since carrots taste good and provide nutritional benefits, it seems counterintuitive to try to make them artificially. Instead, scientists at North Carolina State University developed a technique in 2014 to allow farmers to control the amount of sugars present in carrots. This allows farmers to increase sugar levels without affecting the flavor. Now, farmers no longer have to worry about losing customers to competitors selling sweeter carrots — they can create them themselves! Of course, carrots are technically still natural products, but the overall goal here was to optimize their performance without having to alter their DNA.
If you’d rather learn how to grow your own carrots yourself, head online to find information regarding local farmer markets and community gardens near you. You can also purchase organic seedlings directly from companies specializing in heirloom vegetables. Many garden centers carry seeds for common varieties such as Purple Haze, Long White Globe, and Hasselback Squash. Once planted, carrots thrive best under moderate temperatures ranging from 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). Since they grow deeply below the surface, carrots get plenty of sunlight, though partial shade won’t hurt them either. Some gardeners recommend covering their beds with row coverings to protect delicate young plants from birds and insects.
Next week, we’ll explore another popular question