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Breeding red-fleshed apples

Find out how and why a red-fleshed apple variety is being bred in New Zealand, and discover how genetic information, consumer research and sensory science are all involved.

Red-fleshed apples – unique and healthy

Most apple varieties have white flesh, but scientists at Plant & Food Research (PFR) are developing a new apple with red skin and red flesh. Apart from novelty value, these apples may also have health benefits – the red colour is caused by anthocyanins, which are antioxidants and can help protect against disease.

Get information sheet: Why breed a red-fleshed apple?

Breeding red-fleshed apples

The idea of breeding a red-fleshed apple came from the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan, where the apple originated. PFR scientists collected seed from these apples and grew trees back in New Zealand. The apples had striking red flesh, but the fruit was small, tasted bitter and lacked the quality attributes that today’s consumers expect.

Get information sheet: The germplasm collection: a library of apples

To improve the apples’ taste, scientists at PFR crossed the original red-fleshed apple with commercial white-fleshed varieties. Now they’re improving other characteristics important for consumer acceptability and commercial success, such as long storage life.

A new apple cultivar must meet quality criteria for approximately 45 different traits before it’s considered for possible commercialisation by PFR. This takes several rounds of breeding and is a decades-long process.

Get information sheet: Breeding a new apple cultivar

Genetic information streamlines breeding

New apple varieties in New Zealand are developed through selective breeding – the same technique used by humans for thousands of years. However, breeders can now use genetic information to make the breeding process faster and more efficient. By analysing DNA from apple seedlings, they can predict many apple characteristics (including red flesh) long before the seedlings produce fruit, so they can decide which seedlings are worth growing and which can be discarded.

In 2010, the sequence of the apple genome was published by an international team that included PFR scientists. The genome sequence is helping breeders to streamline the breeding process even further.

Get information sheet: Genetic information and apple breeding
Get information sheet: Sequencing the apple genome

Discovering the genes that control apple colour

Geneticists at PFR have discovered why some apples have red flesh. They found that flesh colour is controlled by a gene called MYB10, which is expressed in higher amounts in red-fleshed apples than in white-fleshed apples.

Get information sheet: Discovering what controls apple flesh colour

The role of sensory and consumer science

Consumer scientists play a key role in plant breeding. In the early stages of developing a new fruit, their research can give breeders an insight into the type of consumer who will buy the fruit and the attributes they value.

Once there’s fruit available, consumer scientists run sensory trials to test the taste and texture attributes of the fruit with consumers. This can help breeders to target consumer groups and develop an appropriate trademark and marketing campaign.

Get information sheet: Consumer and sensory science in plant breeding

Taking the new apple to market

Commercialising a new apple variety in the market is the end point of a very long process – approximately 25–30 years from the first breeding step. For a new variety to be successful, the entire process needs to be carefully managed. Protecting intellectual property is a crucial part of the process.

Get information sheet: Commercialising a new apple variety


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