Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Comparing apples and mutant apple hybrids

I really don't want to be seen as a conspiracy theorist here, or a luddite, or in any way wishing to stand in the path of progress or nervous about those mad scientists, but I do get nervous when people fuck around with fundamentals like food. So when I read that Western Australian boffins have developed an apple which doesn't go brown when its cut (ABC News Online), my first question is How the fuck did they do that? and my second question is, somewhat contingent upon the first, Is this actually a good thing?

I don't know what lies behind the browning process, and can't find a sufficiently authoritative-seeming resource at short notice, but the word "oxidation" springs irresistibly to mind. Regardless of that, the fact of a colour change seems to implicitly lead to "chemical reaction". Which means that a fruit has been developed which is, if it doesn't undertake expected chemical reactions, chemically different to its brethren. With me so far? Good.

Which leads to the worrying thought: If it's chemically different, is this a good thing? Does it take like an apple, or does it have more citric acid in it? Other news reports tell me that it's not GM, only used conventional breeding techniques, and even that it was bred from Lady Williams and Golden Delicious. Fine, so it's first cousin to two current eating apples. Which is like saying that deadly nightshade or tobacco is first cousin to potatoes, so that's okay. Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound, you know.

Yes, I know they've consumer taste-tested this new breed, and I'll be interested to get my teeth into one, but I really wish they'd tell me what they have done.

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