‘Miracle fruit’ from modern tree of knowledge

Genesis: Created at Washington State University, this apple is intended to change the world. © AP

Is this another turning point? First, the Garden of Eden. Then Steve Jobs. Now, a third apple — the ‘Cosmic Crisp’ — launching today, promises to change everything.

You buy an apple in the shop, take it home and put it in the fridge, where it sits forgotten at the back of the shelf. Twelve months later, you take it out and bite into that year-old fruit. It is crisp, juicy and tastes just as good as the day it was plucked from the tree.

Meet the Cosmic Crisp, a new breed of apple that launches today with a $10m (£7.9m) marketing campaign.

“It’s an ultra-crisp apple, it’s relatively firm, it has a good balance of sweet and tart and it’s very juicy,” said Kate Evans, a researcher at Washington State University who helped to develop the breed. Incredibly, the apple also “maintains excellent eating quality in refrigerated storage — easily for 10 to 12 months”.

Cosmic Crisp is the result of a two-decade-long breeding programme to engineer the perfect apple. Its name derives from tiny white spots that dapple its red skin, resembling stars in the night sky.

A cross between the Honeycrisp and the Enterprise, the Cosmic Crisp can only be grown by farmers in the US state of Washington until 2027, under tight licensing rules.

More than 12 million Cosmic Crisp trees have already been planted across 12,000 acres. Demand was so high that farmers had to enter a lottery to get the first seeds.

For generations, farmers have carefully bred apples to make them crispier, juicier and sweeter. There are already 7,500 varieties of the fruit across the world.

New technology is making it easier for researchers to modify food across all areas of our diet. The CRISPR tool lets scientists change plant DNA to bring out or deactivate certain genes with incredible precision.

Aside from apples that don’t brown, they are also working on non-bruising potatoes and virus-resistant pigs. In fact, in 2016, a Swedish scientist claimed to eat the first all-CRISPR meal.

Despite scare stories about GM foods, most varieties are considered entirely safe. One hundred years from now, futurologists speculate that our diets could be composed entirely of “perfect” food, with a carefully engineered taste that never rots or goes stale.

Should this be the future of food?

An apple a day

No way, say some. The apple, a staple of diets everywhere, is an emblem of perishability that is tightly woven into our culture and mythologies. There is something creepy and unnatural about an apple that never goes bad. Food isn’t about reaching for some laboratory-tested, scientific level of perfection, it should be able about enjoying and flourishing on what the land gives us naturally.

But others think the objections are silly. We are just doing what we have done for thousands of years: breeding food that has the tastiest, most appealing characteristics. Besides, in the Cosmic Crisp’s native USA, more than $160 bn (£124bn) of food is wasted every year. Non-perishable food could reach isolated, poor communities without going bad. With any luck, it will transform the way we eat forever.

You Decide

  1. Would you eat a Cosmic Crisp?
  2. What will diets of the future be like?

Activities

  1. Design your own advertising poster for a different fruit.
  2. Write a day’s food diary for a person living in the year 2100.

Some People Say...

“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.”

The Bible, the Song of Solomon, 5:2

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The new Cosmic Crisp apple will be grown exclusively in Washington, USA. Apples are the second biggest selling fruit in the USA after bananas, and Washington is the country’s biggest producer of the fruit. The state’s most popular varieties of apples are the Golden Delicious and Red Delicious, but they are vying for supremacy among shoppers with Gala and Pink Lady varieties, which stay crisp for longer.
What do we not know?
What the future of food will be. Up-and-coming trends feted for being eco-friendly, ethical and sustainable include lab-grown meat from animal cells, and several supermarkets are already selling food products made from crickets.

Word Watch

CRISPR
CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to remove, add or alter sections of DNA with ease and simplicity.
Meal
Stefan Jansson cultivated, grew and ate a cabbage that had been edited with CRISPR-Cas9.
GM foods
Genetically modified foods. These are defined as food that has had its genes edited in ways that do not occur naturally. Cosmic Crisp is not genetically modified because it was created by naturally cross-breeding existing species of apple.
Safe
There is no evidence that a crop is dangerous to eat just because it is GM. However, GM foods are subject to close scrutiny as certain genes could potentially have adverse health effects.
Futurologists
People who study and predict the future.
Mythologies
The fruit of knowledge eaten by Eve in the Bible is usually depicted as an apple, although the text never states what kind of fruit it is. One reason is that the Latin word for evil is malum, which is also the Latin word for apple.

Subjects

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