How we introduce the nonbrowning trait in Arctic® apples

While a doctorate in molecular biology is needed to fully understand how biotechnology can create new foods like our Arctic® apples, even the basics can be tough to grasp without a background in science. Indeed that’s one of the main reasons biotechnology remains controversial, despite the most reputable scientific bodies agreeing on its safety and benefits. Even so, we do our best to simply explain the key concepts of how we make apples “Arctic”:

When Arctic® apples are growing in the orchard or are part of your lunch, they are essentially the same as their conventional counterparts until you bruise, bite or slice the fruit.

Arctic apple transformation

The introduction of this value-added trait does take place in a lab, however, with our hard working, well-credentialed scientists and a Petri dish with tiny pieces of apple leaves (pictured).

The scientist’s job is to introduce the nonbrowning trait into this leaf tissue, which grows into a tiny tree. After additional growth, a portion of that tree is grafted onto a commonly used apple rootstock, creating an Arctic® apple tree. In modern agriculture, nearly ALL fruit trees (including organic) are propagated by grafting.

You may ask, “How exactly does the scientist introduce this nonbrowning trait into the leaf tissue?” These nonbrowning genes need a bit of assistance to be accepted by the leaf tissue:

  • Agrobacterium tumefaciens: This is a naturally occurring soil organism that is commonly used in biotechnology because of its special ability. In nature, it can transfer genes into plants. Ever been out in the woods and seen a big wart, or gall, on a tree? That’s the result of A. tumefaciens! Without this helper, we could create the perfect gene sequence to introduce nonbrowning, but the leaf tissue wouldn’t absorb it – like taking a horse to water that won’t drink!
  • Marker gene: The transformation process is far from 100% efficient, and we want to know when we are successful. So, we use a marker gene to determine which leaf pieces incorporated the nonbrowning trait and which ones did not. Better to find that out now rather than spend a couple years growing the tree only to find it’s just conventional fruit!Arctic apple transformation 
  • Promoter/Terminator: If you think of the apple gene sequence we insert into the leaf tissue as a sentence, the promoter and terminator are punctuation. Just as capitalization and periods tell you when a sentence starts and stops, the promoter and terminator tell a plant where to start and stop reading the gene’s “instructions” so the trait is correctly expressed.

So Agrobacterium tumefaciens transfers the genes into the apple, a selection marker tells us which plants have been improved, and the newly introduced genes are turned on and off by promoters and terminators. All of these elements are found in nature, and carefully put together by scientists with lots of initials after their names.

So, that’s the way nonbrowning genes get into apple tissue to create Arctic® apples. It’s really pretty straightforward, and probably easier to understand than how your smartphone works! It’s also important to remember that Arctic® apple trees and their fruit behave just the same as their conventional counterparts, until they are bruised, bitten or cut.


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Comments

  1. David

    Hello

    This is great, I find this very interesting. I’m in my 4th year of undergrad in a BSc. biology program, specializing in cell, molecular and microbial biology. I’m just wondering though, why genes are being introduced into the apple genome? The genome already contains the genes for PPO, which you want to silence, so what are the genes being introduced? Are you introducing the promoter and terminator regions that flank the PPO genes that will be used to regulate gene expression?

    Thanks in advance for the reply. Looking forward to trying them!

    • Joel

      Hi David, thanks for your comment! As you suggest, it’s necessary for us to use our promoter/terminator genes to regulate the gene expression of the PPO genes, as well as a marker gene to determine whether the apple tissue has successfully been “transformed”. If you’re interested in more detail, the full technical explanation is available in our publicly available petition to the USDA: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/10_16101p.pdf

       

      Hope you’ll be able to try Arctic apples for yourself very soon!

  2. K. Mora

    Ummm…..I think the world needs LESS frankenfruit and more wholesome NATURAL fruit, just the way it was created in the first place! Don’t think I will be buying any of these. Sorry….

    • Joel

      Hi K. Mora, thanks for your comment – we appreciate your viewpoint.

      However, to say that genetic engineering is “tampering” is not accurate, as the changes we make are extremely precise and add benefit, rather than cause harm.

      Almost no food grown today can be technically be termed natural as virtually every commercial crop has been bred over centuries by humans to boost their beneficial traits and de-emphasize others. With modern technology, we can simply do this more quickly and accurately than ever. Even commonplace techniques like crop rotation, the use of tractors, etc. are not exactly natural.

      Even organic apple trees are propagated by grafting, rather than seeds. This doesn’t make the fruit any less safe, tasty or nutritious – just the opposite in fact!

  3. Anonymous

    Any apple tree that is not Malus sieversii growing in Central Asia, is not natural. Thanks to secondary introgression of genes from other species into the open-pollinated seeds, we have our wonderful range of modern, human-made, apples to choose from. Fun fact: apples (that is the human-made kind that we recognize as apples), have more genes than people.

  4. james451

    I’m looking forward to trying these apples.  For the record, I have a B.Sc. in general science, with lots of biology, although I work in taxation (it’s a funny story).

    I agree that very little of what we eat today can really be called “natural”, and what does that even mean, anyway?  It’s a coincidence that people can safely eat some of the things we find in the environment, like plants or animals.  The plant or animal makes the various tissues that comprise its body for its own purposes, not for ours.  The original environmental conditions under which people lived for thousands of years were not like a supermarket, with lots of goodies attractively displayed.  People ate something because they were hungry, and if they didn’t get sick or die they kept eating it.  Talk about gambling with your health – and all in a “natural” environment.

    I think that human health will improve tremendously when we have more foods that are designed to actually meet human nutritional needs.  Even non-browing apples, which at first glance might seem a little superficial, are important.  Apple slices left on plate for more than a few minutes turn brown and don’t get eaten.  Non-browning apples will remain attractive longer and it’s reasonable to conclude that more apples will be consumed because of this.  We already know that eating fruit is good for you.  More people will eat more fruit because of this feature, and since we’re avoiding waste, we’re saving money, too.

    Great job!  I will keep my eyes open for these apples.

  5. Catherine

    Have you performed any long term tests or research on humans for possible adverse affects from consumption of the Arctic Apple?

    • Joel

      Hi Catherine, thanks for your question! Please find a brief summary of the extensive testing we have done directly below in answer to a previous comment on this post.

      • Autumn

        Joel, It seems that you have not directly answered Catherine’s question about testing on the effect on humans. I see that you have tested the fruit, but I have not heard any mention on possible health hazards for humans consuming your product. Have you done any tests or sudies like that?

        Thanks 

        • Joel

          Hi Autumn,

          It sounds like you are wondering if we did a specific kind of test? If so, feel free to let us know what you have in mind and we can certainly let you know either way. If you are curious about animal/human testing, we did not do feeding studies since they are not necessary when it is clear there is no reason to believe consumption could cause harm. And, since we can clearly demonstrate Arctic® apples contain no new proteins, have the same composition/nutrition, and we have even sequenced their full genoms (750 million base pairs!) there are no health hazards for humans consuming our apples.

          We would certainly not be introducing them into the market if we thought there was the slightest chance of harm, and our staff and families will be (and have been) enjoying more Arctic® apples than anyone!

  6. Steve Mach, [email protected]

    I know a bit about growing and propagating apple varieties from seed and grafting. Please indulge David’s and my curiosity to answer his question: “I’m just wondering though, why genes are being introduced into the apple genome? The genome already contains the genes for PPO, which you want to silence, so what are the genes being introduced? ”  

     

    Are they from existing varieties which include the non- prowing characteristic? Is any gene being silenced?  Is only the non-browing trait being introduced?  And the genome recieiving the non-browing trait – how was that derived? 

     

    I assume the “Artic” might also have been produced through cross pollination?

  7. Anonymous

    where did the genes come from that make the apples not turn brown?

     

    ie are they from animals or other plants? What kind of genes when inserted stop the apples from turning brown

     

    thank you

    prefer answer to be posted so please do not use email address thank you

    • Joel

      Hi there, and sorry for the delayed response!

      The specific genes that stop Arctic® apples from turning brown come from apples. Apples have a small number of genes that control the production of polyphenol oxidase (PPO), the enzyme that initiates the browning reaction when an apple is bitten, sliced, or bruised. We insert apple PPO genes that make Arctic® apples produced less PPO, and therefore they don’t have enough PPO to turn brown.

      Hope that helps and please feel free to check out our “Browning 101” section and our infographic that provides some visuals of the process for more info.

  8. Brenda

    You can start by giving me the 3- 5 year impact this fruit will have on the human body or better yet, your scientific group can eat these apples( one a day) for three to five years to measure the health implications to human beings. And just a suggestion:when you write these articles to the Non- scientific community… don’t assume we are all idiots to be able to understand what you are doing…insulting your consumers !Secondly, I will be posting your article and suggesting that we, as informed consumers or uninformed in this case, might well choose to boycott your Frankenfruit…

    • Jessica Brady

      Hello Brenda,

      Arctic® apples have been found as safe and nutritious as conventional apples by the USDA, FDA, CFIA and Health Canada. We are excited to be able to offer another option to apple loving consumers.

      Thank you,

      Jessica

  9. Gord Bestwick

    K Mora: Calling these Frankenfood is actually quite apt. If you have read and understood the story of Frankenstein you’d know that he was gentle and docile creature. He just wanted to help and sustain creation and if those that didn’t understand what he was would take the time to learn about him his creation could have helped the whole world. Only those that held on to naturalistic fallacies and people who didn’t have the desire or capacity to understand what brought him to life feared him. Frankenstein was only a monster because small minded people feared what they couldn’t grasp.

    I would be proud to call any GMO based food Frankenfood.

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