Crunch time for new apple that stays crispy for longer

By Chris Green

Ever since somebody suggested that eating one a day kept the doctor away, the health benefits of the apple have been trumpeted by grandmothers and government ministers alike.

The fruit's only drawback is its tendency to lose its glossy sheen and crunchy texture within a few days - a problem that scientists in Australia claim to have solved.

For the past 20 years, researchers at Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries, a department of the Queensland government, have been developing a variety of apple which they claim can stay fresh for months.

Its name, RS103-130, might not have quite the same ring as popular varieties such as golden delicious, pink lady or braeburn, but scientists have described it as "the world's best apple" thanks to its sweet taste, longevity and ability to resist disease.

The apple, which is a deep red in colour, stays "crispy" for up to 14 days if kept in a fruit bowl, and if stored in a fridge it can remain edible for four months. The Queensland government is seeking a commercial supply partner to distribute the fruit and hopes to begin selling it next year.

Tim Mulherin, Queensland's primary industries minister, said: "This new variety is sweet. It ticks the other boxes, too, because it is disease resistant, so requires few or no fungicides. Initial taste tests have been outstanding. Out of the five apple types tasted, the new variety scored the highest."

The RS103-130 variety has a naturally strong resistance to apple scab, also known as black spot, a disease caused by the fungus venturia inaequalis which affects the foliage and fruit. The apple is not genetically modified but is produced conventionally using a gene from the Asiatic apple variety Malus floribunda which has a proven resistance to black spot.

In Britain, apple producers need to spray each crop 14 times to protect against the disease, a process which costs the £200 million-a-year ($450 million) industry up to 10 per cent of its turnover.

"If you're an apple grower and this [new apple] lives up to its promise, then it really is quite a breakthrough," said Dez Barbara, a senior research scientist at the University of Warwick's Horticulture Research International.

However, he added that the new apple was not guaranteed success in Britain and would have to be trialled. The Saturn variety, which used the same gene, was introduced to Britain in 1980 but didn't catch on.

Dr Barbara said: "Above all, consumers have got to like them - if consumers won't buy them, producers won't grow them."

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