What makes Orange Corn that Bright color?
The orange color of Professor Tobert's corn comes from natural selection for higher concentrations of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are found throughout nature and are responsible for giving many fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange or red color. Examples of carotenoid-rich foods include carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and melons. In fact, carotenoids get their name from carrots, because they were the first food these compounds were identified in. Yellow corn also gets its color from carotenoids, however, the levels are not high enough to produce the vibrant tones found in other foods. That's all changed with Professor Tobert's Orange Corn. By spending years naturally selecting for higher levels of carotenoids, Professor Torbert was able to produce a variety of corn with a color more similar to a carrot than that of the yellow corn most of us are used to.
Is Orange Corn non-GMO?
YES! Orange corn is absolutely, 100% non-GMO. While Professor Torbert is a geneticist by training, he used his expertise not to modify, but rather, to understand how the genes that already exist in corn affect the production of carotenoids in the kernel, and then select for specific genes that produce higher levels. The creation of orange corn did not involve the use of transgenes from other species or any editing of the genome through technologies like CRISPR. Professor Torbert bred his orange corn the old fashioned way: years and years of hard work and natural selection, the same way our ancestors developed the diversity of domesticated plants we enjoy today. The only real difference is that Professor Torbert used science to make the process faster and more precise.
Why do Carotenoids Exist?
While many plants use carotenoids to give their fruits and flowers bright colors in order to attract insects and animals, carotenoids actually play a more essential function. In addition to being effective pigments, carotenoids are also potent antioxidants. Ironically, some of the most carotenoids-rich foods are not red or orange fruits, but green leafy vegetables. This is because carotenoids play an essential role in photosynthesis, in which they accept free radicals thrown off by chlorophyll molecules, essentially keeping the chlorophyll from overexciting and destroying itself. However, this close relationship obscures the carotenoids presence since they are overshadowed by the green color of the chlorophyll. That is, except during one time of year. When trees pull the chlorophyll from their leaves in preparation for winter, the carotenoids are left behind and are finally allowed to shine, producing the beautiful yellow, orange, and red foliage of autumn.
Why should I care about Carotenoids?
Carotenoids aren't just important to plants, they also play a number of vital roles in the human body! There are two major groups of carotenoids: carotenes and xanthophylls. Carotenes are the better known of the two groups because our bodies can convert them into Vitamin A, an essential micronutrient. This is the reason orange corn exists; Professor Torbert wanted to deliver more pro-vitamin A beta-carotene to deficient populations in Africa (learn more here). Americans don't typically suffer from Vitamin A deficiencies, so why should you care? Because Professor Torbert's Orange Corn is also jam-packed with two other carotenoids called Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Although they might sound a little like aliens, they are actually potent anti-oxidants our body needs for a number of specialized functions. Similar to how carotenoids protect the chlorophyll in plants during photosynthesis, our body deposits Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the macula of the eye, where it protects the eye from damaging UV rays and free radicals. Indeed, a large body of scientific work has found the amount of Lutein and Zeaxanthin a person consumes is inversely related to their risk for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. This means that individuals who consume sub-optimal levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin are likely at a higher risk of developing AMD. Unfortunately, the levels most American's consume are far below the levels researchers have found necessary to develop a protective effect (1-2mg/day vs 6-12mg /day). Thats why we think Professor Torbert's Orange Corn could provide real value to american consumers, because it presents the opportunity to deliver significantly more Lutein and Zeaxanthin through corn based foods most of us are already eating.