Molecular biologists at Spain's University of Malaga say they have identified a gene in ripe strawberries that could help create vitamin C-enriched food.

The gene, which is names GalUR, encodes an enzyme in strawberry plants that helps to convert a protein called D-galacturonic acid to vitamin C, according to the study led by Victoriano Valpuesta, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Also testing the same gene in a weed called thale cress, the researchers found that when the genes were altered to overexpress, the enzyme produced two or three times the amount of asorbic acid, or vitamin C.

"Vitamin C is the single most important specialty chemical manufactured in the world," Agence France-Presse quoted the study as saying. "The identification of the GalUR gene provides a new tool whose commercial application may have a substantial impact on the production of this highly valuable compound."

Previously, scientists had been able to increase vitamin C levels in lettuce by using a gene for the enzyme oxidase, but the gene they used came from a rat. Plants modified using strawberry genes are likely to appeal more to consumers than those modified using rat genes, reported Agence France-Presse.