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article imageBC biotech company bets the farm on GM non-browning apples Special

By Stephanie Dearing     Nov 30, 2010 in Food
Okanagan - A British Columbia biotechnology company has employed genetic modification to create the world's first non-browning apple.
The apple, say its creators, Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF), "will provide a more enjoyable eating experience." The technologically designed fruit will sustain less "superficial bruising" during shipping said the company. But more importantly, a non-browning apple will encourage more consumers to eat apples.
The apples are currently in the testing phase, and it is not known when they will be available for consumers. Okanagan Specialty Fruits has just applied to the United States Department of Agriculture for permission to sell the fruit, reported the Huffington Post.
Consumers shouldn't be surprised to learn genetically modified fruit is available in the marketplace. Okanagan Specialty Fruits said GMO fruit has been sold to consumers for over ten years. But this genetically engineered apple is different, and represents a ground-breaker in the biotechnology world, said OSF in a document prepared for a 2008 conference: "... the techniques being used in their development represents a new generation of plant breeding technology. We have developed a novel approach that allows us to very precisely silence an existing apple gene without introducing new genes into the plant. Recently this approach has been termed cisgenics ..." The company stressed that cisgenics is not the same thing as transgenics, in which genes from other living things are inserted into the product under development.
OSF said its ground-breaking technology works "... by silencing the enzyme that drives the browning reaction in apples. This enzyme, Polyphenol oxidase (“PPO”), has been switched off, and without it the apple does not turn brown." The apple variety the company has developed to not brown is called "Arctic."
The technology was not developed by OSF, but rather by Australian scientists, and OSF has purchased the license to the technique. Cisgenics is a relatively new field, and researchers are excited by the potential. The technology mimics natural selection and human-manipulated interbreeding processes that have been employed for thousands of years, said a press release posted at Science Daily this summer. Researcher Steven Strauss said the new field presented opportunities for both biotechnology and consumers. "With cisgenics, you know exactly what gene you're picking, what you're putting in, and it's a process that is similar to what happens naturally during crop breeding and evolution. Our genetic tools just make the process more precise, and we do it faster. We believe that this will help address some people's concerns, and that regulatory agencies may soon view this quite differently than the type of genetic modification done with conventional transgenics.
We're not trying to insert genes from a fish into a strawberry here. We're taking a gene from a poplar tree and putting it back into a poplar tree. That's easier for a lot of people to accept, and scientifically we believe such approaches should be exempt from the regulatory reviews required for most transgenic crops. "
Anti-GMO proponents say concerns voiced about transgenic crops also apply to cisgenic technology. The technology could be transferred through pollination, said Sarah Parsons at Sustainable Food, thus posing a threat to organic apple growers.
Reached by email, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Lucy Sharratt lambasted the biotechnology, saying "This is another totally unnecessary and risky GM technology that will only be greeted by consumer backlash. It's totally backwards to genetically engineer one of nature's most perfect foods. If fast food companies like McDonalds start using a GM apple, they will turn their "healthy" food options into a GM nightmare."
GM Watch warns that while many biotechnology companies state genetic modification is natural, genetic engineering and genetic modification did not exist until the 1970s.
A similar trade-marked technology exists called Rapid Trait Development System, used to create genetic changes in plant species without introducing foreign DNA. This technology is currently being put to use in Canada in the development of a better flax seed, reported the company owning the patent, Cibus. The technology is seen as a way around Europe's dislike of transgenic crops.
ViaLactia owns the US federal trademark for Cisgenics. Cisgenics is also known as "intragenics."
More about Biotechnology, Genetically modified organisms, Non-browning apples, Cisgenics, Okanagan specialty fruits
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