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Publication of apple gene sequences announced

HortResearch and Genesis Research announce publication of apple gene sequences

What the world knows about apples is set to increase dramatically as New Zealand’s HortResearch prepares to reveal five years’ research into the apple’s genetic code.

HortResearch, one of the world’s leading horticultural research and development organisations, announced today it would publish approximately 100,000 of its apple gene sequences, significantly advancing global research into the apple’s genetic make-up. HortResearch has one of the world’s largest fruit gene databases.

HortResearch began its gene sequencing programme five years ago and, together with research partner Genesis Research and Development Corporation (NZX/ASX:GEN), has identified expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from apple and other fruit species. ESTs are DNA sequences from active genes in the plant; genes that govern such characteristics as skin colour and taste.

HortResearch senior scientist Dr Richard Newcomb says sharing HortResearch’s apple ESTs will expand the knowledge base of scientists working on apples and other fruit, as many genes are shared across all plants and are involved in determining similar characteristics. Comparison with the genomes of the model plants of Arabidopsis (wild cress) and rice will create even more opportunities for the future.

“Publishing this data will give plant researchers a new platform that will launch them into more interesting territory faster,” says Dr Newcomb.

“Sharing this knowledge will encourage and accelerate research into apple and other fruit around the world, which will improve the quality of fruit in new commercial cultivars for the benefit of both growers and consumers,” he says.

Dr Newcomb says HortResearch is actively seeking partnerships in New Zealand, the United States and other countries that can capitalise on its expertise in biotechnology and fruit-based food products, especially in the areas of improving convenience and human health and performance.

“We could push ahead on our own but after working with this database for five years we now believe we can extract more value from it by broadening our perspective. We are confident that sharing our discoveries with the global scientific community will create a multiplier effect. It will lead to more discoveries that would benefit our work, and to collaborative research projects with overseas research groups that are interested in the further development of pipfruit.”

The New Zealand based research and development company will release its EST information to GenBank in late May. GenBank is a public repository for gene sequence information managed by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

Dr Newcomb says HortResearch’s move was prompted by a United States’ National Science Foundation project to develop an apple EST database similar to the one owned by HortResearch, which would also be made publicly available.

“We realised we could save them some effort, avoid some unnecessary duplication and help other researchers at the same time,” he says. Dr Herb Aldwinckle, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University and principal investigator Dr Schuyler Korban of the University of Illinois are leading the NSF project. Dr Aldwinckle welcomed HortResearch’s announcement.

“This is going to be a tremendous boost to research in apple problems worldwide. Together with the ESTs being generated under our NSF project, the New Zealand science is going to provide a great database for working on problems in fruit using genetic and molecular techniques.”

Dr Aldwinckle specialises in researching disease resistance in apples, especially fireblight, which he says is a serious problem for growers around the world.

“This is already happening with HortResearch’s own gene research but I think it will help us find other resistance genes,” he says. “We’re very interested in resistance.”

He says combining the HortResearch and NSF project EST databases could also lay the foundation for another project to map the apple’s gene sequences. It was also a significant resource for researching many other members of the rosaceae family, which includes pears, some berries, roses, stonefruit and almonds.

HortResearch’s new varieties senior scientist Dr Sue Gardiner says HortResearch uses ESTs to develop molecular markers that positively identify plants with specific fruit or tree characters among seedlings bred using traditional methods. She says a key benefit of combining this technology with traditional breeding techniques is improving the speed to market.

Dr Aldwinckle says HortResearch’s apple breeding programme is among the top two or three in the world.

“It’s probably number one right now. It’s produced some very exciting varieties.”

HortResearch’s 70 molecular scientists will continue to build the apple gene database for use in their discovery programmes to identify new genes involved in key fruit characteristics.


About HortResearch The Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand Ltd

HortResearch is dedicated to searching for ways to improve human health, wellbeing and performance through its unique understanding of fruits, plants and sustainable production systems. The organisation provides world-leading scientific research, novel technologies, innovative fruit and fruit products with high customer appeal. It delivers these outcomes through leading-edge scientific capability in plant genomics and gene mapping, plant breeding, tree, vine and fruit physiology, biochemistry and genetics. HortResearch is a commercially focussed Crown Research Institute, wholly owned by the Government of New Zealand.

For more information, please visit

About Genesis Research Founded in 1994, Genesis is a New Zealand-based biotechnology company. It has built a broad genomic platform and has multiple product candidates in development, targeting immune disorders and cancer. These are backed by an extensive patent portfolio. Collaborations are maintained with Amgen Inc. (Nasdaq:AMGN), Corixa Corporation (Nasdaq:CRXA), SR Pharma plc (LSE:SPA), Jurox Pty Ltd, and AgResearch. AgriGenesis Biosciences Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Genesis that is focused on using key plant cell signalling genes – novel hormones and transcription factors – to control commercial traits including growth rates and wood fibre quality in trees, nutritional content of forage grasses, flowering control, and cold tolerance. It has developed comprehensive plant EST databases including the world’s largest EST database for commercial forestry species. It has commercial collaborations with ArborGen LLC, Wrightson (NZX: WRI), HortResearch, and Landcare Research. For more information, please visit and

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