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Biological Chemistry

Department Of Agriculture Approves First Genetically Modified Apple, Which Resists Turning Brown

Regulation: Activists and growers remain concerned about commercialization of new fruit

by Britt E. Erickson
February 23, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 8

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Credit: Okanagan Specialty Fruits
Arctic apples (right) are genetically modified to produce low levels of polyphenol oxidase, which causes the fruit’s flesh to turn brown.
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Credit: Okanagan Specialty Fruits
Arctic apples (right) are genetically modified to produce low levels of polyphenol oxidase, which causes the fruit’s flesh to turn brown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the green light to apples genetically modified to resist browning. The move paves the way for U.S. growers to produce and sell the apples commercially.

The Feb. 13 decision angered many apple producers who say bioengineered varieties should be labeled as genetically modified. Growers fear that consumers will stop eating apples if they can’t tell which ones are altered and that some countries will halt imports of U.S. apples.

The apples, developed by Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, will be sold under the name Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden. The firm claims that they will be easy to distinguish from non-genetically-modified apples because they will carry the Arctic label.

Arctic apples contain genes from other apples that produce low amounts of polyphenol oxidase (PPO), the enzyme that causes apple flesh to turn brown. The expression of those genes is turned down using a process called gene silencing, or RNA interference, so that the production of PPO is too low to cause browning.

USDA concluded that the modified apples are unlikely to pose a risk to other plants in the U.S. or to the environment. But consumer and environmental groups are raising concerns about the safety of eating the apples, something that has yet to be evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Growers can plant and sell the apples without FDA’s approval.

“All we’ve done is reduce the expression of a single enzyme; there are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit, and their nutrition and composition are equivalent to their conventional counterparts,” says Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan.

Whether consumers will want nonbrowning apples remains an open question. These apples are likely to hit small test markets in late 2016.

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