SCIENTISTS trying to isolate the gene which gives Brussels sprouts and other greens their cancer-preventing characteristics are on the verge of enjoying the sweet taste of biotechnological success.
After more than ten years of research, scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich say they are close to isolating the prized gene which is thought to be responsible for the production of cancer-preventing glucosinolates in brassicas, such as cabbages and broccoli.
Geneticist Richard Mithen has been using cress in a bid to isolate the gene.
He is currently introducing tiny fragments of cress DNA, which are thought to contain the gene, into plants, which are being tested for synthesis of the compound.
He is confident that the gene will be found within six months.
The centre then hopes that it can enhance levels of the glucosinolates in common vegetables to increase their cancer-preventing qualities.
Such biotechnologically manipulated broccoli could be on the supermarket shelves, alongside genetically modified cabbages enhanced with lectins from snowdrops to increase insect pest resistance, in a matter of five to ten years, say scientists at the centre.
Examples of genetically modified brassicas, as well as other modified fruit, vegetables and flowers, will be on display for the first time at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, where the John Innes Centre will have its own garden.
The Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 20 to 23.
Also on display will be crops made genetically more resistant to stresses such as drought, high temperatures and salinity.
It is thought that such genetically modified crops may also provide a stress-busting diet for humans.
This is because the mechanisms used by plants to protect their metabolism from the effects of stress are similar to those used by people.