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More apple varieties with differing crispness, juiciness, flavour and aroma are expected to be bred now that the apple genome – all its genetic material, including chromosomes, genes and DNA – has been determined, according to the NZ Herald.

An international consortium, which includes New Zealand’s Plant and Food Research, has sequenced the more than 600 million base pairs of DNA which make up the apple genome.

The sequencing makes it possible to develop a fruit with just the right crispness, juiciness and flavour. Or one that is resistant to diseases or will not require costly cultivation or post-harvest care.

“Understanding how important characteristics in plants are controlled is vital in reducing the time to breed successful commercial cultivars,” says Roger Hellens, genomics group leader at Plant and Food Research.

“Now we have the sequence of the apple genome, we will be able to identify the genes which control the characters that our sensory scientists have identified as most desired by consumers.”

The apple genome project involved scientists from Italy, the US, Belgium, France and New Zealand, including those from Plant and Food Research. Kiwi scientists’ part in the project was to provide access to a breeding population of 600 golden delicious apple trees.

The apple is the fourth most economically important fruit crop worldwide and accounts for NZD$395 million of New Zealand’s export income. Publication of the project’s results this week have caused a stir in the scientific community, particularly with those involved in genetics.

The Herald quoted Otago University genetics director Peter Dearden saying the genome would allow better directed selective breeding of apples to suit various markets.

“It will now be possible to find and assay for variation across the whole genome sequence. Using the genome in this way is likely to be the biggest spin-off from the sequence and will benefit apple breeders and consumers for a long time to come,” Professor Dearden was quoted saying.

The report also quoted Otago University biochemistry senior lecturer Richard MacKnight saying: “Scientists will now be able to more quickly ask, what makes, say, a braeburn apple different from a pacific rose. Then the apple breeders will be able to combine the best genes from both when producing a new variety.”

Plant and Food Research’s apple breeding programme has previously developed the commercially successful jazz variety.

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