Bobbing for non-browning Arctic® Apples

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Arctic Apple-o-Lantern, by Joel Brooks, who won our carving contest last year.

Bobbing for apples is an old Halloween tradition. In the days before candy and trick-or-treating, the young and unmarried would use their teeth to try to catch apples floating in water or dangling by a string, ultimately to catch a superstitious glimpse of their romantic future. The tradition, which originated when the Romans brought apples to Britain after conquering it, today, can still be seen as a funny trick to make teenagers work for their treats.*

It is interesting to think about apples and candy both being prominent treats for Halloween. Because if you ask an apple breeder – candy is their direct competition. Jim Luby, whose program at the University of Minnesota has released both the Honeycrisp and the new SweeTango apples, once said “we’re competing against candy bars for stomach space.” One taste of either of these apples agrees with the fruit being up to the task. While one could question our modern sweet tooth, replacing anything like candy bars and french fries with apples is still undoubtedly a good thing.

There’s another apple that may also have this kind of impact, not by changing the way the apples taste, but by taking already popular apples and removing one of their culinary limitations: the browning process. As soon as you slice them open, apples turn brown and quickly lose their visual ap-peel, thanks to Oxygen and an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO). The folks at Okanagan Specialty Fruits decided to try silencing this enzyme through genetic engineering, and the result is the Arctic® Apple. This apple does not turn brown when you slice it, opening up many possibilities for pre-sliced apples in lunches, salad bars, edible arrangements, etc, and reducing waste from apples deemed unappetizing.

At the 2013 BIO convention in Chicago, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to the President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Neal Carter, to hear more about his company’s apple, and answer questions that I and our readers have about the new trait. What did they do to assess safety? Can I get a tree for my back yard? What is the regulatory status of the Arctic® Apple? You’ve seen the goofy Activists vs Scientists video, but now without any further ado, here’s the full interview with Neal!

Next up will be the full, but short interview with the lead Apple protestor at the conference. Then maybe I can get to the 5 hours of video footage I have from my American Chestnut adventure

Maybe with some of these new apple varieties, there will be a reason to bring apple bobbing back? Or maybe you could hand out (packaged) pre-sliced apples to be eaten by Trick-or-Treaters while they are haunting the streets. They will stay pearly white, and you know sliced fruit tends to disappear like there’s black magic involved. Maybe a beneficial unintended effect of this transformation could be the alleviation of the traditional Halloween Night Belly Ache?

More information:

*Many mouths mixing saliva in one bucket might not be the most sanitary thing in the world. I would opt for the string approach or some other prophylactic measure.

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Karl is a Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison. In addition to his research on the genetics of sweet corn, he is also completing a minor in science communication and is working on several media projects about plant breeding. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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10 comments to Bobbing for non-browning Arctic® Apples

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    INAPPROPRIATE USE OF GMO TECHNOLOGY!!!!1!!!

    Wouldn’t the carved apple look cooler (more contrast) if it “browned”?

    If you sprayed it with (fresh) juice of a browning-prone variety, would it colour-up?

    • What’s inappropriate about it? An apple that doesn’t brown when bitten, sliced or bruised can significantly reduce food waste (around 50% of apples grown are wasted) and can also help boost apple consumption…

      And yes, if you sprayed it with conventional apple juice, you would see some browning as the juice contains polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme that drives apple browning, which is silenced in Arctic apples through the use of other apple genes.

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    Then he should have EATEN the apple: a non-browning yellow variety just doesn’t have the colour-contrast to be a good carving like this.

  • Haha he = me! Maybe I did eat it after?

    Only had Arctic Goldens with me at the time, will go for an Arctic Fuji or Gala next year!

    • OrchidGrowinMan

      That would look much better!

      So you’re the expert, eh?

      Can you tell me what’s up with the bitter cider apples that have brown flesh already? Is it the “same brown”?

      Amusing anecdote: Practical practice and capricious whimsy led me to have more than twenty varieties on one apple tree. Some branches protruded over the fence into the alley. Occasionally someone would pick a fruit and bite it, but never a second bite! Bwaa-ha-ha-ha! Brown-Snout (and others).

      But this: http://www.actahort.org/books/44/44_35.htm

  • Yes, my personal favourite apple variety is Gala, so I’m definitely looking forward to approval for our nonbrowning versions! Arctic Granny & Arctic Golden are our first two varieties, though, so that’s been the focus for now (likely will receive approval in early 2014).

    Regarding the cider apples, I’m definitely no expert on that, but from what I can recall, many cider apples (including Brown Snout) will have a certain degree of natural “Russett” colouring, which is different from the enzymatic browning cause by polyphenol oxidase. The amount of Russett coverage can be influenced by a number of factors (e.g. pests, weather) but has to do with the skin’s pigment, rather than the flesh of the apple.

    I’ve never eaten a Brown Snout myself, but despite your words, can’t help being curious to try one now! :-)

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    Joel,

    ‘Brown Snout” is a “Bitter-Sweet” cider apple, and not suitable for enjoying out-of-hand (to most people). As I recall, it has flesh that is already brownish.

    I explain “West-Country” cider as a “grown-up” beverage (as opposed to “East-Country” or “American” versions), with a sophisticated and complex flavor. The ciderist can start with a bulk of any kind of apple, but may need to blend-in some juice from varieties that carry bitter or “sharp” properties; those are the special “Cider Apples.” It economizes orchard use to have available very bitter or sharp apples, so that, if they are not needed in a given year, there is less waste.

    I find this site very informative (there are many more pages than this one): http://www.cider.org.uk/tannin.htm

  • Bruce

    Nice article. I’d never thought of giving out apple slices rather than candy at Halloween. I’d wager that the little guys would really eat ‘em up too, would be a nice break from all that sweet candy. But they sure won’t if the apples are brown will they.

    I fail to see why people oppose this breakthrough. It’s like many want Agriculture to revert back to yesteryear and discard all the wonderful technological breakthroughs – while they tap out anti GMO venom from their I Phones. Maybe they should discard their technology too!

  • cost usually associated with using biotechnology methods in creating. The right kind of agreement can ensure companies always have safety stock waiting in case any one particular vendor experiences delivery issues.

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