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.

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:
Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.