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Besting Johnny Appleseed

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Science  16 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5976, pp. 301-303
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5976.301

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Summary

Until recently, geneticists, their skills honed on Arabidopsis and other quick-breeding flora, avoided fruit-tree research like a blight. Of the 11,000 U.S. field tests on plants with transgenic genes between 1987 and 2004, just 1% focused on fruit trees. That's partly because of the slow pace. Whereas vegetables like corn might produce two harvests each summer, apple trees need eons—around 5 years—to produce their first fruit, most of which will be disregarded as ugly, bitter, or squishy. But everything in apple breeding is about to change. An Italian team plans to publish the decoded apple genome this summer, and scientists are starting to single out complex genetic markers for taste and heartiness. In some cases the scientists even plan, by inserting genes from other species, to eliminate the barren juvenile stage and push fruit trees to mature rapidly, greatly reducing generation times.