Courtesy t.shirbertWho else is tired of boring old apples? C’mon, everyone, you know you know it. I know you know it. Just say it: I’m tired of boring ol’, unsurprising, jive-axe, apples. Let it out. It’ll feel so good: all these apples taste like apples—if I wanted to eat a clone, I’d tear apart a lamb, not an apple. Am I right? Don’t answer that—I know I’m right.
Fortunately for us, we brave surfers of the future, at least one scientist has joined our army of edgy discontent.
Apple trees, it just so happens, don’t produce apple seeds that are exactly like themselves. Why would they? Humans never produce children exactly like themselves, and that sort of genetic variation suits us well. But if there were a particular human that tasted tart and crisp and delicious, wouldn’t we want that person’s offspring to be exactly the same? Maybe. With apples, at least, that has certainly been the case.
So, to ensure that the varieties of apples we’re so familiar with keep their desired characteristics, commercial apple trees are always propagated by grafting a chunk from an existing tree onto sturdy rootstock. That way you get a new tree identical to the old one, and you get the lame Junior Crisp, Granny Spice, and Yellow Fantastic apples that we’re all tired to death of.
The apple science of the new millennium, however, is looking past this past of homogeneity. While some catalogued and selected-for traits, like resistance to certain diseases, are worthwhile retaining, some geneticists are exploring the potential of increased variation. Apple trees at Cornell University have been made to grow in columns, instead of branching out at their crowns, and to produce fruit while remaining the size of a shrub, or to have weeping branches like willow trees. Similar variability can be found in the fruit itself—flavors like “anise, berries, or roses” exist, and fruit with as much vitamin C as an orange, or one that is loaded with antioxidants, have been envisioned. How about that?
Buzzketeers, put on your worker hats and Che t-shirts, and throw out your old apples. It’s revolution time.
Man. What was the point of this post? Oh, yeah—work is being done on genetically engineering apples to have different, interesting characteristics. Brave new world, crazy apples.