Bill Purves purves at TURING.CS.HMC.EDU
Wed Apr 9 13:26:22 EST 1997

The carrot question that my colleague Mary Williams's student proposed is an
interesting one. Mary had mentioned it to me before she posted to plant-ed,
so I'm following this with interest.

The 3/3 consensus of those who replied first is that selection by breeders
is responsible for the high beta-carotene content of today's carrot roots,
and one of the respondents suggests that the motivation has been to provide
more vitamin A.

It was pointed out that wild _Daucus carota_ generally lacks substantial
carotene accumulations. I'd like to know what farmers's carrots looked like
around the turn of this century. Vitamin A is not something that's been
recognized for all THAT many decades. I don't find it likely that we've been
consciously selecting for colorful carrot roots on nutritional grounds.
It's not as if carrots are a major constituent of that many diets (I think).
I'd be more convinced if we were talking about a crop such as an orange rice
or millet.

If those lovely carrots are the result of selection, I'd find it easier to
believe that the selection was purely for esthetics/novelty.  But we won't
know unless somebody can document the motivation, which seems unlikely.

As I mentioned in an aside to Mary yesterday, in seeking an answer to the
Kolorful Karrot Kwery, we might at the same time wonder about all the
anthocyanins in the beet root.  AND, as I said to Mary, I wonder whether the
carotene has anything to do with the FLAVOR of the carrot.  I'm not prepared
to go taste-testing in the lab!


William K. Purves              phone: 909.626.4859
2817 N. Mountain Avenue   voice mail: 909.621.8021
Claremont, CA 91711-1550         fax: 909.626.7030
USA                    e-mail: Bill_Purves at

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