20 Jul 2018

NZ scientists plan to use DNA to change look and nutrition of fruit

8:41 am on 20 July 2018

New Zealand scientists say they can use a plant's own DNA to change the look, feel and texture of its fruit.

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Photo: 123RF

Currently, produce like potatoes and apples carry the majority of their nutritional value in their skin, however by changing a family of proteins called MYBs, naturally carried in the plant, produce could have the same concentration of vitamins in every bite.

That includes the aesthetically pleasing ruby red apple - both inside and out.

In an article published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, two New Zealand food researchers discussed the possibilities.

One of the authors, Auckland University's Andrew Allan, from the New Zealand Science Institute of Plant & Food Research, said that type of breeding was not classed as genetically modified by the public, as that would require the produce to contain foreign genetic material.

"The red line with most of the public seems to be does it have foreign DNA in the plant, that's what upsets people the most and in these new techniques and in traditional breeding, we introduce no foreign DNA, so it is not what the people think is GM," he said.

Mr Allan said the technology was already there, it was just a matter of changing perceptions.

"We've got all the tools we need at the moment, we could be 10 years away from a product, but we're certainly doing the stuff right now in our [containment] greenhouses," he said.

"We just need to start a conversation about these things and why they're of less risk than previous technologies and why we should be comfortable about these new products."

Mr Allan said New Zealand's horticultural sector was doing well, but to continue doing well, it needed to be the best.

"We don't want our competitors to grow cultivars that are better, we want to be first," he said.

He said it took a while to grow the crops, which meant it was now a good time to start the discussion on those new breeding technologies.