Plant breeders persevere for 20 years to perfect blight resistant apple

January 23rd, 2009 - 12:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 23 (IANS) Plant breeders persevered for 20 years to develop a new, late-ripening apple that is resistant to scabs, the biggest blight that invades the fruit.Being resistant to apple scab is a big plus for growers, said University of Illinois plant (U-I) geneticist Schuyler Korban, as it significantly reduces the number of chemical fungicide sprays.

“Apple scab is the number one disease that growers have to spray for - 15 to 20 times per season - so not having to spray for apple scab lowers the cost for the grower and is better for the environment.”

Why does it take over 20 years to make an apple? “It takes a long time to develop an apple because you want to test it in different locations, you want to observe it over a number of years, and it takes awhile for an apple to get noticed,” said Korban.

“I liked it the first time I saw it and I liked the flavour. It has an excellent mix of sugar and acid and a very pleasant flavour, but I was hesitant because of the finish - it’s not glossy.”

Korban thought the finish might pose a problem because consumers are accustomed to seeing waxed fruit in stores and may not like the matte finish that Korban calls “scarfy” or dull.

“Red Delicious is a very good looking apple, but has no flavour, very bland. It’s still ranked as the number one apple in the industry; however, there are more new apple varieties available now.”

After some time, Korban decided that the crispness and the flavour would be more important factors to consumers than the finish and continued to develop the new apple. He collaborated with plant breeders at Rutgers and Purdue Universities.

The apple is available now to nurseries which want to apply for a licence to propagate trees and make them available to apple growers nationwide.

“There is a nursery in the southeastern part of the US that really liked the apple and feel that there is a market for it in the south so they’re getting a licence to grow it,”

It also takes time for a new orchard or even for an existing orchard to plant new apple varieties. But when WineCrisp cuttings are grafted into a fast-growing root stock, Korban says there could be fruit on the tree in as little as three years.

Korban said that the tree is extremely productive and the fruit is firm, but it’s not a bright red colour. “It’s more of a dark red and looks like a deep red wine so we wanted to include ‘wine’ in the name.

The original cross in the breeding process was done at Rutgers in 1989. The seeds were grown into seedlings and inoculated with apple scab at Purdue, said an U-I release.

Those seedlings that demonstrated resistance to apple scab were split between the three universities as a part of the Purdue-Rutgers-Illinois (PRI) Cooperative Breeding Program.

It has been very successful in naming and releasing over 25 disease-resistant apple varieties, some with other collaborating partners around the world. U-I will be the primary licensing institution.

These findings are scheduled for publication in HortScience, and a US patent is currently pending.

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