Produce choices may become more attractive, thanks to new breeding technologies that have the potential to enhance the shape, size, color, and health benefits of fruits and vegetables.
“Consumers are drawn to varieties that have novel shapes and colors, and they are more likely to repeatedly buy fruits and vegetables that they know taste good,” says Andrew Allan, PhD, BSc, principal scientist, Plant and Food Research, and professor, University of Auckland, New Zealand, who co-authored a July 19 article in the journal Trends in Plant Science that reviewed new plant breeding technologies. “People will live longer, healthier lives by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables.” [mobile-ad name=”Advert 1″]Dr. Allan also notes that although fruits and vegetables are already healthy, some cultivars have flesh with less vitamin or nutrient content. “By increasing these components, produce will have more health benefits per serving,” he says.
In commenting on the new breeding technologies, Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology, Department of Plant Science, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., says improving produce’s health benefits is important. “Many people worldwide suffer from malnutrition and lack of micronutrients, which can cause developmental defects—especially in children,” Guiltinan says. “This can lead to lifelong problems such as physical impairment, susceptibility to numerous diseases, reduced mental capacity, and early mortality.”
Guiltinan says it’s interesting to develop new produce varieties with attractive colors and shapes, but adds that a more pressing need is to improve traits that could lead to more sustainable food production such as disease resistance, drought and heat tolerance, and nutrient efficiency. [mobile-ad name=”Advert 2″]Dr. Allan reports that several new breeding techniques are now being used. Rapid flowering, for example, produces a constantly flowering fruit tree which can expedite breeding and deliver new cultivars faster. CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing can make new variants of plants without introducing new DNA. “My colleagues and I are investigating how to apply gene editing to plants in containment,” Dr. Allan says.
“Other than being more technical, these new breeding technologies are a new way of doing what breeders have done for centuries—identifying traits that are of interest to both growers and consumers, and combining them into one plant,” Dr. Allan says.
Guiltinan says CRISPR technology is one more tool for breeders to develop genetic diversity. “It has the potential to be very precise and more rapid than current tools,” he says. “End products produced with the new technology might be potentially safer than conventional breeding methods since genetic changes can be simpler and known in advance.”
Like any new cultivar, the products of these techniques should be tested in the same way as those delivered by traditional breeding, Dr. Allan cautions. If no new DNA is added, then there isn’t any additional risk other than that associated with breeding any new plant.