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Genetically Altered Apples That Don't Turn Brown: Would You Bite?


In the hopes of selling more apples -- including more pre-sliced fruit for snacking -- one biotech company is trying to bring to market a genetically altered apple that doesn't turn brown when it's bruised or cut.

According to the New York Times, the company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Canada, thinks its non-browning apple will do for the apple industry what baby carrots did for carrot growers -- mainly, spur sales by making the product more convenient.

(Except that carrot growers didn't genetically alter their carrots to make them small. They just peeled and pared down larger carrots to "baby size," to make them easier to eat.)

A whole apple is "for many people too big a commitment," the company's president said. "If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn't take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice."

Okanagan has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval of its non-browning Arctic Apple and last week the agency opened a 60-day public comment period on the company's application.

Okanagan's president also said that the new apple would help growers have fewer apples rejected by supermarkets because of minor bruising -- a quality that one critic described as producing "a rotten apple that looks fresh."

As the Times explained it, Arctic Apples, which would first be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of the enzyme responsible for the browning.

The synthetic gene does not come from another species. Rather, it contains DNA sequences from four of the apple's own genes that govern production of the browning enzyme.

Currently, apple slices are usually dipped in lemon juice or something similar to keep them white. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) delays browning.

Although fresh apple consumption in the U.S. has slipped from 20 pounds a year per person in the late '80s to 16 pounds today,  the apple industry isn't enthused about a Frankenapple on the market.

The U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of a genetically altered apple, as do some other organizations.

The apple association points out in a statement that browning is a natural process and that "lightly coating sliced or cut apples with vitamin C-fortified apple juice delays browning prior to serving."

In other health news:

Dog owners sue over pet jerky deaths. reports that dog owners in eight states who believe contaminated chicken jerky treats from China sickened or killed their pets are banding together in a class-action lawsuit against Nestle Purina, the maker of two popular brands of the canine snacks, and several mega-stores that sell them.

Chemicals in cosmetics tied to women's diabetes risk. Hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates, commonly found in beauty products such as nail polishes, hair sprays and perfumes, may increase risk of diabetes for some women, new research reported by suggests.

FDA approves first drug to fight HIV. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Truvada, the first drug shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection, a milestone in the 30-year battle against the virus that causes AIDS, the Associated Press reports.

Photo credit: expressionposthumus via flickr

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