Genetically Modified Limes Are Purpler and More Healthful

Florida citrus could get a colorful new makeover

Thanks to a few genetic tweaks, your margarita could someday come in a lovely lavender shade—and be better for your health, too. Researchers at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center have modified the genetic code of limes, making the popular fruit more resilient and healthier for you, and giving it a colorful new tinge. The researchers will publish their work in the January issue of the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, according to a press release.

The limes get their new purple hues from molecules called anthocyanins, which also give blueberries and red wine their distinctive shades. By adding genes from purple grapes and blood oranges to Mexican limes, the researchers created a lime that could synthesize its own anthocyanins. The researchers found that the new genes also changed the color of the lime’s roots and leaves.

There’s no word yet on whether the genetic tweaks change the limes’ flavor, but they could be better for your health. Previous studies have shown that anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that can reduce your likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

The pretty new limes could also have a big effect on the Florida citrus industry. Though Florida produces many of the most popular varieties of oranges and grapefruits, blood oranges can’t grow there because they need colder nighttime temperatures and less humidity in order to thrive. For years, Florida orange growers have been trying to figure out how to cultivate the popular blood orange in the sunshine state, but have not yet found a way.

These genetically modified limes, which contain genes from the blood orange, might represent the first step towards developing a new type of blood orange that could grow in Florida’s warm, humid climate. Adding blood oranges to the list of Florida citrus could provide a bright spot in a bleak prognosis for the industry. As Florida’s citrus crops are increasingly threatened by bacteria, farmers are more open to disease-resistant versions of the fruit. That could make them welcome to modified versions of blood oranges, which, if they could thrive in Florida’s hot and humid conditions, would increase the farmers’ yields and income. However, it’s still not clear if consumers will be as enthusiastic.