The gene enables the cauliflower to build up higher stores of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A that gives carrots their distinctive hue. (Scientists have already figured out a way to engineer rice to be rich in beta-carotene, but that method's more cumbersome, involving several genes, and doesn't work in a lot of plants.) The original mutant orange cauliflower was discovered three decades ago in a farmer's field, according to a newsrelease describing the finding, which was reported in the journal Plant Cell (which won't let you read all about it unless you pay, bah, humbug).
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— Rosie Mestel