Scientists develop apple that <U>won't</U> rot

Disease-resistant variety of fruit can be kept out of the fridge for a fortnight without going off

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 a team of scientists in Australia now claims to have solved.

For the past 20 years, researchers at Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries (QPIF), a department of the Queensland government, have been developing a new 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 the 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, Queenland'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 both 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 £200m-a-year industry up to 10 per cent of its turnover. A variety which did not require spraying could mean huge savings for the producers.

"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 the UK in 1980 but didn't catch on.

"With apples, you've got to take into account things such as how easy they are to grow and pick," Dr Barbara said. "Above all, consumers have got to like them – if consumers won't buy them, producers won't grow them."

Guy Barter, chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society, said the new variety's longevity could give it a major advantage.

"Apples that have ripened in storage are never quite as nice as those that ripen naturally. There's also a huge environmental cost in running the cold stores to keep the apples, so if you had a variety that required less cold storing, that would be valuable," he said.