Fruit lovers worldwide may soon enjoy new, healthier, tastier apples, following the release this week of crucial genetic data which fruit breeders say will help revolutionise the produce industry.
Researchers at New Zealand's world renowned fruit science company HortResearch, announced today that they would 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 can 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 2nd 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 Ltd released 100,000 apple ESTs.
Identified by HortResearch scientists over a 6 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 then 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 world's top fruit geneticists in Hawke's 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."
Dr 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 will 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. 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 company's own breeding programmes for novel apple varieties, including a recently revealed red-fleshed apple.
Source: EurekAlert, March 2006