A CANADIAN company is tapping into Australian genetically modified horticulture technology to expand its market.
The genetically modified organism (GMO) technology, first developed by CSIRO for potatoes, prevents apples from browning and it has potential to benefit a range of other crops.
Regulatory costs of GMO certification mean companies in larger markets, such as North American, are lured into the processing of adopting such technology by the potential commercial payoff.
One Canadian biotech company Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) is taking a slice of the CSIRO’s non-browning technology before other players capitalised on our homegrown science.
It is unlikely an Australian company would invest in passing the regulatory hurdles associated with GMO for apples.
OSF has branded an Arctic apples product with the non-browning technology and its first product will be snack sized bags of Arctic Golden apple slices, with more non-browning varieties expected in future years, including Granny Smith and Fuji.
OSF founder Neal Carter began working on the apples in the mid-1990s.
“I came across research from CSIRO that had managed to ‘turn off’ browning in potatoes,” Mr Carter said.
Other sliced apple products, which are typcially coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning.
“My wife and I felt that we could help boost apple consumption through a biotech approach with apples, as non-browning apples would be more appealing and convenient.
“We felt this could also significantly reduce food waste, as nearly half of all apples produced end up wasted, many due to superficial bruising,” he said.
Fruit and vegetables turn brown after they are bitten, sliced or bruised because of a naturally occurring enzyme (polyphenol oxidase or PPO) that reacts with oxygen other components in the fruit cells, producing a brown pigment.
CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene that blocks plants’ production of the browning substance.
Spoilage due to browning is a huge cost to horticulture, with wastage of damaged fruit and costly chemicals to prevent the reaction.
CSIRO said the non-browning technology, which works in apples and potatoes, could also be used in other crops, such as beans, lettuce and grapes.
Simplot also uses the technology in its Innate potato.
CSIRO director business development and commercial for agriculture and food Lionel Henderson said the PPO technology was feasible in a large number of crops.
“It could be applied to any crop where there is a browning caused by oxidative,” Mr Henderson said.
The technology was spurred by a CSIRO discovery in sultanas.
“We identified the gene in sultana. We found one that was golden colour rather than darker brown and we found the difference between the two.
”The lighter one had the PPO gene turned off, so it came as a golden colour rather than brown.”