The first field test of a transgenic apple, developed jointly byPlant Research Laboratory of Modesto, Calif., and the Universityof California, Davis, has begun in Northern California. Theproject intends to eliminate the need for insecticides to growthe $1 billion annual U.S. apple crop.

The transgenic apples carry a gene from the soil bacteriumBacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which will code for a protein that islethal to the key pest of apples, the coddling moth. Markergenes have also been transferred into the apple plants.

Several hundred of the transgenic shoots are being set out in anursery plot of less than one-fifth of an acre north of SanFrancisco. Under a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit, the"Greensleeves" variety plants will not be allowed to flower orfruit during the two-year trial.

Researchers will be looking at the stature and vigor of thetrees. "We will have to (apply to) amend the permit in a yearor so to allow fruiting," said Plant Research Lab's researchmanager Peter Viss. The transgenic apples will also have to beevaluated for taste and appearance, he said.

The planting will follow a patented procedure that PlantResearch Lab developed to allow transfer of laboratory-grownshoots directly into the field without the need for greenhouseacclimatization. "You save a lot of money" by eliminating theintermediate step, Viss told BioWorld. The procedure hasalready been tested in 15 different apple cultivars, he said.

The company, which is funded by a general partnershipbetween Burchell Nursery and Treetech Management, both ofModesto, has been collaborating with UC Davis apple researcherAbhaya Dandekar. The jointly developed transgenic apple is afruit of the state Department of Commerce's competitivetechnology program.

-- Roberta Friedman, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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