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The secret world of Apples

18 Media Release
October 2001

The secret world of Apples


We’ve become used to DNA ‘fingerprinting’ of people: now apples are as identifiable. The inside of an apple is something we take for granted, a place and taste we experienced for the first time at such a young age we can’t remember it. The good news is, that hasn’t changed. The even better news is that gene markers – properly called microsatellites – now make it possible to be more certain what variety the apple belongs to. As the work of breeding new varieties is the basis for a lot of livelihoods, this new level of proof is of prime importance.

HortResearch’s Apple Gene Mapping Group, led by Dr Erik Rikkerink, has provided a novel way to protect new varieties from unauthorised propagation. In the future gene markers may become a requirement for registering varieties for plant variety rights. The Group has achieved a world first, searching for and designing the microsatellite markers to provide this genetic marker system for distinguishing between different varieties, which is superior to earlier methods. There are now gene markers for over 200 apple varieties, providing a fast way to identify plant material.

This makes it possible to prove illegal propagation, import, or export of plant material, helping control what has been a major worry for producers and growers competing in the international market. Producers can get a DNA fingerprint for their valuable new apple cultivars very early in the production process. Having this on record will help in any future disputes where they suspect that others may be growing one of their varieties without their consent. The database is also particularly useful for quality control. Nursery staff and orchardists can confirm, with a high degree of certainty, the apple variety they are growing, although the system can’t yet distinguish between sports and their parent cultivars.

Sports, naturally occuring new varieties, are like identical twins, differing in only very small ways, but at the rate this science is advancing it may not be long before the apple has to give up this last bastion of its privacy too. Meanwhile all the rest of us have to do is pick an apple out of the fruit bowl, admire the play of light and shade on its dappled surface, then bite.

Words 372

For further information please contact
Dr Erik H A Rikkerink
Mt. Albert Research Centre
Private Bag 92 169, Auckland, New Zealand
Phone +64 (9) 815 8768
Erikkerink@hortresearch.co.nz

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