Stories tagged apples

Oct
26
2008

Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'
Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'Courtesy Art Oglesby

Honeycrisp, my favorite apple

Around the end of September I eagerly visit an apple orchard to stock up on Honeycrisp apples. I first experienced Honeycrisp apples back when they were first released in 1991 because I lived next door to Jack Kelly and what is now part of Apple Jack Orchards. I was impressed by the "explosively crisp" snap as you bite into the apple and its sweet, juicy flavor that also has a hint of tartness. Here is a quote about the Honeycrisp apple from the University of Minnesota Extension:

Honeycrisp fruit is characterized by an exceptionally crisp and juicy texture. Its flesh is cream colored and coarse. The flavor is sub-acid and ranges from mild and well-balanced to strongly aromatic, depending on the degree of maturity. It has consistently ranked as one of the highest quality apples in the University of Minnesota sensory evaluations.

The Honeycrisp story is remarkable

I first read the amazing story about how the Honeycrisp was developed in the City Pages. James J. Luby and David S. Bedford, working within the Department of Horticultural Science University of Minnesota, have given a big boost to Minnesota's apple growers and the horticulture department.

Bedford calls it a "lifesaver." According to the university's office of technology commercialization, Honeycrisp has generated $6.3 million for the institution, placing it among the school's top five most lucrative inventions. (The U receives $1.35 a tree and splits royalty income in thirds, with one portion going to the inventors, another to the college and department where the faculty work, and the third into a general research fund.)

How the Honeycrisp apple is produced

Apple breeder David Bedford tastes between 500 and 600 apples every day. Bedford is trying to find the genetic gems from among the nearly 20,000 trees in the horticulture department's orchards. Only 15 or so have the "wow" that allows their genetics to advance to the next round. Hand pollinating select blossoms and using wax bags to prevent any stray pollination, produces the next generation of seeds. The ancestors of the Honeycrisp were in the crop of 1960. A bad freeze almost eliminated the genetic line in 1980. When the parent trees were killed by a 1 in 50 yr. freeze, the offspring were classified as unacceptable. Bedford decided to let them have a chance, and

A few years later, when the clones began bearing fruit, Bedford was shocked by the apples' crispness and juiciness, which reminded him of an Asian pear. "The thing I remember was that the texture was so unusual, I wasn't sure if it was good or bad," he says.

Read more about the Honeycrisp saga

The complete story is fascinating. You can read more by clicking the City Pages link. Probably the best description of the Honeycrisp apple sage is told at MinnesotaHarvest.net. An addendum within this webpage added this surprising quote:

Records and public releases from the University of Minnesota from 1991 to the present have identified the parentage of Honeycrisp as the cross 'Macoun' x 'Honeygold'. But recently completed DNA testing has determined that neither Macoun nor Honeygold are parents of Honeycrisp.

The testing determined for certain that Keepsake, another apple from the University of Minnesota's apple breeding program that was released in 1978, is one of the parents. But, despite extensive searching, the other parent has not been identified. There is no DNA match among any of the varieties that are thought to be possible parents.

The University's Research Center routinely crosses and plants thousands of seeds annually, moving them and the resulting seedling trees from place to place over a period of years, so there are multiple points where a mix-up could take place.

Science stares inside
Science stares insideCourtesy Nevena
Researchers in Belgium have figured out why apples stay crunchier, after being picked, than pears. Micro structures through out the fruit of an apple are able to deliver oxygen to the cells while the structures in pears are dense and closed off which prevents oxygen flow. These scientists determined this by using a high tech radiation facility to create images of the internal structure of the fruit. But, you can get a sense for their findings yourself at home. Drop and apple and a pear in a jug of water. Find out which on sinks? Can you think why?

Sep
24
2007

Graphite drawing of Velociraptor sp: Image courtesy Matt Martyniuk via Wikipedia.
Graphite drawing of Velociraptor sp: Image courtesy Matt Martyniuk via Wikipedia.
More questions submitted to one of our featured Scientists on the Spot that were off topic for them to answer, but interestingly have some current news and connections.

Velociraptors don’t have feathers, do they?

Yes, they did. According to an article in the September 21, 2007 journal Science:

Some nonavian theropod dinosaurs were at least partially covered in feathers or filamentous protofeathers. However, a complete understanding of feather distribution among theropod dinosaurs is limited because feathers are typically preserved only in lagerstätten like that of Solnhofen, Germany or Liaoning, China. Such deposits possess clear taphonomic biases toward small-bodied animals, limiting our knowledge regarding feather presence in larger members of feathered clades.

We present direct evidence of feathers in Velociraptor mongoliensis based on the presence of quill knobs on the posterior forearm. In many living birds, raised knobs along the caudal margin of the ulna reveal where the quills of the secondary feathers are anchored to the bone by follicular ligaments. Quill knobs are variably present in extant bird species and are present in only a few basal taxa such as Ichthyornis , so their absence does not necessarily indicate a lack of feathers. Their presence, however, is a direct indicator of feathers of modern aspect (e.g., feathers composed of a rachis and vanes formed by barbs).

So, the theory is currently that they did have feathers, and may have looked something like the image in this article.

While doing some velociraptor-related reading for this question I learned that September is National Velociraptor Awareness Month, co-sponsored by the The American Society for Velociraptor Attack Prevention, the North American Velociraptor Defense Association and the United Velociraptor Widows Fund.

Why are apples good for you?

This question probably comes from the old saying that, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. And while just eating apples won’t by itself “keep the doctor away” it does not hurt either. Apples are a fruit, and like most fruit, it contains nutrients that are good for you, and it is a low calorie snack. Apples are source of both kinds of fiber. The soluble fiber in apples helps to prevent cholesterol buildup and as a result reduces the incident of heart disease, while the insoluble fiber in apples helps cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system. Recent research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of certain cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinsonism.

Speaking of apples now is a perfect time to eat them as they are being harvested. Check out a local apple orchard and try out some of the hundreds of different kinds of apples out there. (My current favorite is the Honey Crisp.) You can even send in suggestions to name a new apple developed by the University of Minnesota!

Current tiger range map in relation to historic distribution: Image courtesy Save the Tiger Fund.
Current tiger range map in relation to historic distribution: Image courtesy Save the Tiger Fund.
Where are there tigers?

Sadly, tiger populations are shrinking. Back in 2006 a study of tiger habitats found that tigers reside in a 40% smaller region then they did 10 years earlier, and currently only occupy 7% of their historic habitat areas. Tigers are found in the wild on the continent of Asia, currently in the countries of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Amur region of far eastern Siberia. You might also be able to see a tiger in your local zoo.

Three species of tigers have already become extinct: the Balinese tiger, the Javan tiger and the Caspian tiger. More information on current tiger populations can be found here.

Sep
18
2007

Name needed: The apple variety, currently known at the University of Minnesota Arboretum as MN-447, needs a proper name. What do you think this small, sweet and sometimes cracked apple should be called? Send in your suggestion.
Name needed: The apple variety, currently known at the University of Minnesota Arboretum as MN-447, needs a proper name. What do you think this small, sweet and sometimes cracked apple should be called? Send in your suggestion.
A few years ago, actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her new-born son Apple. Now you have the chance to name an apple.

The University of Minnesota is taking suggestions for a more proper name for one of its research apples. It’s currently known as MN-447. And who really wants to go by MN-447, right?

The apple has actually been around for some time, although it hasn’t been put out on the commercial market. It’s a breeding apple that’s been used to create new varieties of apples, including the U’s world-famous Honeycrisp.

According to apple researchers at the U, while it has some great genetic characteristics to pass along to other apples, it isn’t exactly the “apple of the eye” to consumers. It is a smaller apple that often cracks around the top and has a strange flavor that’s been compared to Hawaiian Punch, molasses and sugarcane on steroids.

In taste tests, usually five or ten percent of samplers give it high marks. But it’s exactly that small group, a niche market, that the university wants to provide an apple to. And it wants to market it with a better name than MN-447.

Hmmmmm? What would be some good names for this particular apple? It’s small, very sweet and sometimes a bit cracked. How about “Harpo” after Harpo Marx. Or maybe something more contemporary like “Howie” after Howie Mandel from Deal or No Deal.

You can submit your own name suggestion for MN-447 by clicking in the "What's New" section at www.arboretum.umn.edu through Oct. 31. Here are some of the names that have already been suggested: Tropical Blizzard, Tropical Punch, Arctic Blast, Arctic Oasis, Polar Picnic, Northern Nugget, Hardy Tropical Punch, Tundra Crunch, Nordic Delight, Sugar Cane, Cold Snap, Iceberg.