DNA breakthrough promises crispier and tastier apples

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New zealand, Fruit, Dna, Apple

Crucial new genetic data on apples could help revolutionise the
produce industry by unlocking the secrets of taste, health and
colour.

Researchers at New Zealand's fruit science company HortResearch announced this week that they will shortly complete the public release of the world's most extensive collection of apple DNA sequences.

The release comprises over 50,000 apple gene sequences - referred to by scientists as expressed sequence tags (ESTs). These are DNA sequences from active genes in the plant; genes that govern such characteristics as fruit colour and taste.

By identifying and investigating only these active genes, researchers claim they have been able to avoid the high costs and long timeframes associated with full genome mapping projects.

A number of research teams from around the world have been working on identifying apple ESTs, and this will be the second time New Zealand scientists have taken line honours for being first to publish crucial information. The previous occasion was in 2004, when HortResearch and listed New Zealand biotech company Genesis released 100,000 apple ESTs.

Identified by HortResearch scientists over a six year period, the apple ESTs hold the secrets to discovering how gene function controls all aspects of fruit development, including taste, colour, vitamin content and even how fruit fight plant diseases. Fruit breeders can use this information to create new apple varieties, tailored to suit consumer tastes, health requirements, and the demand from industry for fruit less prone to disease.

Speaking at a gathering of the worlds top fruit geneticists in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, HortResearch chief scientist Dr Ian Ferguson said the technology held the capacity to revolutionise the apple industry.

"By understanding fruit at a genetic level we are able to unlock the true potential of nature and present industry with products that meet consumer demand for attractive, novel, exciting new fruits that taste great, are healthy, convenient, safe and sustainably produced,"​ he said.

Ferguson said the EST database has already helped expand scientific understanding of apple, enabling HortResearch scientists to identify a key gene involved in apple colour expression.

"Further work with the database will undoubtedly yield even more exciting advances in the future."

Releasing the ESTs into the public domain could also serve to enhance the speed of discovery.

"We will see a multiplier effect, where discoveries made in other countries will benefit our work and speed up cultivar development,"​ said Ferguson. "There will also be opportunities for HortResearch to become involved in collaborative research programmes."

HortResearch says its apple EST database is already being employed to support the companys own breeding programmes for novel apple varieties, including a recently revealed red-fleshed apple.

HortResearch, a New Zealand-based science company, is home to the world's largest fruit gene and compound database. The company has earned considerable acclaim as the name behind development of Zespri Gold kiwifruit, Jazz apples and a range of other successful cultivars including blueberries and peaches.

The company was also behind the development of the world's first intelligent fruit labelling system, ripeSense.

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