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Apples Are More Complicated Than You Think

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Apples
Courtesy of liz west (Flick CC0)

Nova Scotia, Canada is home to the Apple Biodiversity Collection in the Annapolis Vally. In this Apple Biodiversity Collection, you can find trees that are unusually tall and narrow like the ones known as Kandil Sinap, which are found in the Black Sea region and many other tree varieties. The collection has more than 1,000 varieties of apples, which burst with autumn colors that include red, orange, yellow, green, and even purple.

Apples
Courtesy of Michele Dorsey Walfred (Flick CC0)

Although these apples can be found here they aren’t used for consumption. They won’t end up in pies and or baskets of leaf peepers. So, why are they there? Well, scientists are using them to research the genes that provoke this bonanza of apple diversity. Scientists are working to possibly improve them to create tastier, heartier, more disease-resistant, ones and improve the shelf-life to face the problem of changing climates.

The original founder is a man named Sean Myles, who started the orchard back in 2011. He calls the spectacular view the United Nations of apples and thinks it’s tremendous to be able to see the world’s genetic diversity in one singular place. Many of the popular brands that sell apples in the grocery stores like Cosmic Crisps, SnapDragons, and Honeycrisps all originated with the support of scientists.

Scientists studied the qualities of different apples and crossbred them. The world has more than 7,500 varieties of apples. Dr. Myles, the original founder of the orchard, previously worked at Stanford University School of Medicine on human genetics. His wife is what prompted him to move to Annapolis Valley because he wasn’t first interested in fruits. In the region Annapolis Valley is in, apples are the main crop. Due to apples being the main crop Dr. Myles started to get into apple genetics.

In 2011 he joined Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture and also got a Canada Research Chair position with funding to start the Apple Biodiversity Collection. The whole creation of the Apple Biodiversity Collection was a very long process. It took about 6 years and every year they would plant 4,000 little trees in the summer, rip them up in the winter to freeze, and replant them the next summer.

Geneva, New York here in the U.S. is home to the country’s most diverse apple collection. It’s managed by the USDA and its main purpose is to conserve apples. The conservation of apples in Geneva and the research done on them in Annapolis Valley help broaden the scope of possible future apples.

Apples are one of the hardest crops to work with. The reason being is how long it takes for an apple tree to produce the fruit. For a tree first, to produce apples it takes five to seven years. Before a variety even reaches the growers, scientists breed and test a given apple for 15 years. A good example of this is Honeycrisp which started its research in the 1960s and 70s and didn’t hit the market until the early 90s.

Other companies including Honeycrisp originated with the use of controlled hybridization. Controlled hybridization is a technique of taking pollen from one kind of apple tree and inserting it into the flower of another. The use of this technique results in the creation of a hybrid apple that shares both genes of the two parent apples.

In 2013, Dr. Brown at Cornell included the RubyFrost and SnapDragon types. These debuted to consumers in 2013 and were commercialized in a partnership with Crunch Time Apple Growers of New York. Many more are to come especially with the help of the Apple Biodiversity Collection in Annapolis Valley.

Written by Gabriel Salgado

Sources:

The New York Times: How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future.

Cultivating Diversity: Orchard

Global News: Researchers work to create genetically perfected apples in Annapolis Valley

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of liz west Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Michele Dorsey Walfred Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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