After three years of research the apple genome has been identified in an international effort. This knowledge will eventually lead to new varieties of apples which are healthier, tastier and faster growing, and which are resistant to fungal or bacterial pathogens
The Istituto Agrario San Michele all`Adige is situated near Trento in the northern mountains of Italy. Here the team of Dr. Riccardo Velasco coordinated the apple genome project. 20 institutes in Italy, France, Belgium, New Zealand and the USA have been contributing to decode the genome of the world`s second most widespread domesticated apple, the Golden Delicious. The scientists used state-of-the-art technologies to reveal all 57.000 genes of the apple which are distributed over 17 chromosomes. The high number of genes is quite unusual and is attributed to a duplication of the genome around 50 million years ago. In fact, the apple´s genome is the largest plant genome deciphered to date.
Analysing the apple’s genome, Dr. Velasco and his team revealed also the historical home of the apple. Eve’s forbidden fruit originates from the southern mountains of Kazakhstan and the wild ancestors of our domesticated apple are still found there. Scientists at the Istituto Agrario San Michele have now started to cross the wild apple with the cultivated apple varieties. Using the knowledge of the apple’s genome, scientists now can choose the parents of a cross breed according to their genomic character – this might be the color, crispness, sweetness or even resistance to pathogens. After crossing these parents the seedlings are selected in order to identify the few plants which possess favorable combinations of the wanted genes.
This technique will shorten the complicated way of finding promising new apple varieties considerably. The apple of the future may therefore just need one year - instead of seven - to fully grow, it may be resistant to pathogens like scab or fire blight and therefore will need less chemical treatment. New apple varieties may also be more nutritious and have anti-oxidising properties.
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