Tasting and Testing a Genetically Modified, Non-Browning Apple

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By EMILY WALTZ NOVEMBER 10, 2015 11:20 a.m.

Innovations in biotech crops aren’t known for getting children excited, but there is a new fruit trait on its way to the market that families may appreciate and children may actually notice. It’s a genetically modified apple that doesn’t turn brown when it is bruised or sliced. My children and I had a chance to try some some last week. We beat them up and put them through a battery of tests to see how child-friendly and tasty they really are — a snack and a science lesson in one.

The apples also gave us an opportunity to talk about what genetic engineering is and where we stand on the issue — a topic parents will increasingly face. In the American home, the idea of engineered, or genetically modified (GM), foods so far has remained a bit abstract. We don’t know when we are eating such ingredients, since they aren’t labeled on food packaging. And we don’t see or experience the traits, since most genetic modifications to crops aim to improve yield or create efficiencies for the farmer.

Apples engineered to thwart the browning process, however, put the science in our faces. Our children will be able to hold these apples in their hands and watch the engineered trait work. A non-browning apple is a concrete demonstration of biotechnology at work.

The apple’s developer, a small Canadian company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits, accomplished this by silencing genes that code for polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme that causes browning in apples when they are bumped or sliced and exposed to air. Regulatory agencies in the United States and Canada earlier this year approved the apple, and Okanagan says it plans to make them available in small test-market quantities in the fall of 2016.

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