Sunday, February 22, 2015

Is There a Point to Genetically Modified Apples?

Recently the USDA has "approved the planting of genetically modified apples that won't turn brown when sliced" (The National Journal).  I first heard about these apples in biology on Friday as we talked about genetic engineering in humans as well as in agricultural products.  These new apples, called "Arctic Apples", were created by Neal Carter of the company Okanagan Specialty Fruits, based in British Columbia.  The website explains the technology needed to produce these "super apples": the tetramer polyphenol oxidase causes fruit browning, and can be found in many fruits as well as potatoes.  Potatoes undergo much more enzymatic browning than apples do, and Australian scientists found a way to create a genetic modification in the potatoes that silenced the polyphenol oxidase (or PPO) gene, therefore limiting the amount of PPO produced, which in turn stopped the browning process.  Scientists at Okanagan licensed that technology and implanted the gene that stopped PPO production into its apples, which limited the amount produced (less than 10%) and stopped the browning process like in the potatoes.

The company claims that the reduction in the superficial bruising in the apple will make it easier to tell whether an apple is bad or if it is just a little bit bruised and still fresh.  However, this new technology won't stop the decay of apples.  According to the website, the new gene will stop the browning process entirely but cannot stop the natural decay of apples.  So what, then, is the point of creating genetically modified apples if they will decay at the same rate as their counterparts?  And, for that matter, won't it be extremely confusing to consumers if their apple looks fresh but tastes old?  Ultimately, I fail to see the point of using prime genetic research to merely point out whether an apple is fresh or not. 

Do you have an opinion on using technology to produce genetically modified apples?  Comment down below what you think about this scientific advancement.