London: British scientists have genetically tweaked ordinary oranges to turn them into "healthier" blood oranges which they say could soon be mass produced at a fraction of the current cost.
Blood oranges get their distinctive colour from pigments known as anthocyanins which also provide a variety of health benefits, for example lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.
But the pigmentation only develops in certain climates where the fruit is exposed to a brief period of cold weather, meaning the oranges can only be commercially grown in a particular part of Italy and are consequently sold at a premium.
Now, researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have identified the gene responsible for the pigmentation and engineered it so that it does not need cold in order to develop, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The gene has been implanted into seeds of the more common Valencian variety of orange, and researchers hope to have their first fruit from the genetically modified plants by the end of the year.
Prof Cathie Martin, who led the research, said: "We can transform this gene into a blonde orange variety and create a cold-independent blood orange, but we have to use genetic engineering to do that.
"Hopefully in the near future we will have blood orange varieties which can be grown in the major orange growing areas like Florida and Brazil, so blood oranges will hopefully become more available worldwide and the healthy properties will be enjoyed by many more people."