Scientists claim is may soon be much easier to grow blood oranges – a fruit believed to combat obesity and heart disease.

A 2010 study found that blood orange juice limits the development of fat cells and weight gain in mice and offers greater resistance to obesity than standard orange juice.

“Blood oranges contain naturally-occurring pigments associated with improved cardiovascular health, controlling diabetes and reducing obesity,” said Professor Cathie Martin from the John Innes Centre in Norwich.  

However, blood oranges need low temperatures in order to ripen and the only place they can be grown reliably on a commercial scale is around Mount Etna in Italy, where the combination of cold sunny days and warm nights provides ideal growing conditions. Blood oranges are grown outside Sicily but researchers said entire harvests have been lost in some years because the right conditions cannot be created during ripening.

Scientists have now identified the gene responsible for blood orange pigmentation and believe it will be possible to genetically engineer a fruit that will grow in warmer climates.

“Our improved understanding of this trait could offer relatively straightforward solutions to growing blood oranges reliably in warmer climates,” added Martin.