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The First Non-Browning GMO Apples Slated to Hit Shelves Next Month

The new Arctic apples take weeks (rather than minutes) to turn brown

smithsonian.com

There are all kinds of remedies to keep sliced apples from browning: a spritz of lemon, salt and water, even honey and water. But a new apple in town could make that concern a thing of the past. The Arctic apple is genetically modified to resist discoloration for weeks. Now, the first crop has been approved for commercial sale and are set to hit supermarket shelves next month.

The reason that apples turn brown soon after their fleshy innards are exposed is an enzyme known as polyphenol oxidase, or PPO. This protein lurks in a range of plants and works as a natural defense against insects looking to grab a sweet snack, James Vincent reports for The Verge. Once the skin of the apple is broken or bruised, the enzyme goes to work, oxidizing the sweet flesh and turning it brown to the dissatisfaction of many a child. 

But the Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits has been on a quest to change this. While PPO might have played a part in the apple’s evolution, modern apples don’t really need it. According to the company's website:

"No meaningful role identified for PPO in today’s apple production. In fact, PPO levels vary widely among different apple varieties and even Arctic apples have some PPO—just not enough to initiate the browning reaction."

To create these non-browning fruits, called Arctic apples, the company "turned down" the expression of PPO, nearly eliminating the production of this enzyme. Without the PPO, sliced apples can last up to three weeks without oxidizing, Vincent reports. One of the primary goals of the campaign is to crack into the pre-sliced apple industry, eliminating the need for additives to keep them from browning. The company also hopes that the Arctic apples will help reduce food waste from consumers and markets.

While the fruit won’t be explicitly labeled as a GMO product, that information will be available by scanning a QR code on the packaging. “We are selling it under the Arctic brand and we’ve had a lot of press and attention, so I assume most people will know what it is,” company founder Neal Carter tells Dan Wheat reports for Capital Press.

The company has been developing their brand for the last 20 years and are finally ready to start rolling it out in grocery stores. Because they are still growing their orchards, Arctic is starting out small, with only about 500, 40-pound boxes of pre-sliced apples scheduled for delivery in ten stores scattered around the Midwestern United States, Wheat reports.

Carter’s company is also working on developing more varieties of PPO-free apples, including granny smith, Fuji and gala. Right now, they are limited to a relative handful of trees (orchards in British Columbia and 85,000 trees in Washington state), but the company plans on planting hundreds of thousands more in the next few years in order to boost their supply, Wheat reports.

Though many people are weary about GMOs, scientists have yet find evidence that genetically modified foods are actively harmful. But concerns still remain among some growers and GMO opponents.

Can Arctic apples take a bite out of food waste? The answer could be coming soon to a store near you.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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