HortResearch Touts Red-Fleshed Apple
Came across this tonight:
HortResearch develops antioxidant-rich red-fleshed apple
HortResearch is the privatized national horticultural research agency in New Zealand (why so many countries have decided to do that is beyond me...isn't the point of a national research agency to do the type of research no private entity would find economically attractive?). A colleague of mine recently visited them, and they're really hyped up about this red-fleshed apple. They seem to be promoting it as though no one had ever seen a red-fleshed apple before, which is hardly the case. The trait has been known at least as early as the 1930's, as Albert Etter and several state experiment stations released a number of red-fleshed cultivars (there's a list, probably not exhaustive, here.) I'm pretty sure it's a dominant trait, too, so unless there are some unfortunate linkages it shouldn't be too hard to breed for.
Now, they like to claim that the breeding program was driven by nutritional goals. That might well be, I suppose, but I suspect it is a case of searching for justification after the fact (which is fine, don't get me wrong). Apple breeding is a long, slow process, and I would guess any selection nearing release now is from crosses made long before the anthocyanin craze in fruits began. Maybe they were prescient, or maybe they just got lucky. If I had to guess, breeders were messing around with the red-flesh trait basically because it's cool (and it is, be honest), and now that they have it in the breeding program and a justification has appeared, they've decided to promote it that way.
Fine by me, I guess. Just seems to me that if growers thought there was a market for red-fleshed apples, they have cultivars to do it with already. But the New Zealand folks have a mighty impressive history in marketing fruit, so we'll see how this shakes out.
Update: I found this article, which says they started work on this in 1998. They attribute their rapid success to "Smart Breeding", possible because of their EST sequencing. Once again, I'm not sure I buy it. They claim to have identified the genes responsible for red flesh, but even if they have, the main advantage this would give you is an ability to pick out red-fleshed individuals before they fruit. This is nice to be able to do, but it doesn't necessarily speed things up, because you still have to be able to evaluate taste, texture, skin color, resistance to fruit diseases, etc. If all they care about is red flesh, then how is the result better than existing red fleshed cultivars? I don't buy that these genetic tools (at this stage, anyway) can allow the development of a quality apple cultivar, something that typically takes 25+ years, in only 8 years. Call me a skeptic, I guess.
Update 2: I also found this page describing red flesh apple cultivars, which mentions 'Surprise', which dates at least back to 1831. (The other list has this as an Albert Etter cultivar, but I'm pretty sure it's wrong...somebody is, because that long pre-dates him.)