Scientists attempt to improve the sweetness of Chilean apples

PhDs in vegetable molecular biology discovered the charm produced by the taste of the Fuji variety of apples in Asia and they challenged themselves to produce a high quality version.


Although it is difficult to imagine that, in the fascinating and thousand year old fragrances and tastes of the Asian cooking, there are many Chilean ingredients. Despite the distance, the strong commercial exchange of this country has allowed products such as apples – the second most exported fruit after grapes, with a contribution of 18,6% in 2008 – to have an ever increasing and improving acceptance in the Philippines, Malasia and People’s Republic of China

There is such a special charm in the East for the sweetness of the Fuji variety..  So much that Taiwan alone imported 66% of the almost 26,000 national tons exported during the first half of 2009, according to the numbers disseminated by the Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias (Odepa, Study and Agrarian Policies Office), from National Customs Service information.

Two years ago, academics from the Science Faculty of the Universidad de Chile (University of Chile), Claudia Stange and Michael Handford, were coming back from the 6th Caribbean Latin American meeting of Farming Biotechnology (Redbio 2007) held in the nearby tourist city Viña del Mar. They are both experts in vegetable molecular biology and agreed to search for future developments such as increasing, in a natural way, the flavor of the Fuji apple through the launch of a high quality version.

Claudia Stange is a specialist in carotene and Michael Handford is specialist in sugar metabolism in plants. “The question was what we could do with our knowledge to contribute a new product to the country, for which we made a list headed by apples” explains the PhD in Biological Science with a minor in Molecular Genetic and Microbiology.

Long Term Project.

Stange and her colleague Handford – a British Cambridge post-graduated scientist and married to a Chilean woman – found some research about in vitro growing that could support their work in addition to the cooperation of Italian scientists.

They had already decided to embark on a long term project before achieving the first crop, and they started the process to get financial resources in 2008. They received $555,000 dollars, 70% will be granted by the Innova Chile program of the state organization “Corporación de Fomento de la Producción” (Corfo)  which had resources for about 90.000.000 dollars the last season.

“We are aiming specifically to the Asian markets, because they have different tastes than USA and Europe. It is enough just to taste their foods that are bittersweet with strong flavors, very hot or very sweet. As far fruit is concerned, they value sweetness very much. Technically speaking, it is easier to start from a sweet base to enhance the characteristic” says Handford.

According to his comments, apple plantations with sweeter fruit will become a reality at the end of four years if they have proper conditions, and in 3 or 4 seasons, an evaluation of the process will take place. Although he prefers not to anticipate the events, he and his colleague can already visualize the flavor modification of other fruits.

From his point of view as a foreigner, his final reflection is positive “The quality of Chilean science is world class. And this is valued, as it was in a recent congress that I attended in England”. In fact, he reveals that his New Zealand colleagues, experts in the genetic improvements of fruit trees, sharply confessed to him about their concern and admiration for the work done by the people “on the other side of the Pacific Ocean”.