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How the Carrot Got its Orange Hue

This is a guest post by a student writer from our Future Science Leaders program. 

A few days ago, I decided to take carrots to school as a snack. As I was munching away, I wondered if the carrots I was eating were grown and produced in the same way that their carrot ancestors had been.

Wanting to learn more, I decided to research the history of carrots.

To understand a little bit about the carrot, it’s important to take a look at its ancestor, the Daucus Carota. From a yellow pigment to blue, purple, pink, red or white with small white roots, the Daucus Carota is noted for its variety in colour. In fact, carrot-eaters of the past wouldn’t have expected to eat orange carrots exclusively. With all these different coloured carrots, you may be wondering how the carrot became orange in pigmentation. Why are modern day carrots commonly orange?

It’s possible that the carrots became predominantly orange for political reasons.

In the 17th century, Dutch farmers were said to have grown orange carrots in honor of William of Orange, a leader who strived to gain Dutch independence. This orange-coloured carrot, unlike ancestral varieties, is the result of a high concentration of pigments called carotenoids which make it extremely rich in Vitamin A.

Recently, researchers have sequenced the carrot’s genome and through their sequencing, they have developed an explanation of the carrot-orange hue that we all know and love.

The research team ended up finding the source of genomes of the well-known and loved orange Nantes carrot, in addition over 35 different carrots in the Daucus genus. They found that 10,530 genes are unique to carrots, out of the 32,113 genes in the genome. Also, the team classified two genes that potentially have a role in the change in pigmentation of the carrots. The two genes which are responsible for the colour of the carrots are the Y gene and the DCAR_032551 gene.

I learned a lot about carrots through my research and that we should take some time out of our lives to learn more about things that we take for granted.

Have you ever tried a carrot of a different colour? How did it compare to our old favourite, the orange carrot?

This is a guest post by Future Science Leaders student, FH.

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