• Tech Tech

Scientists use fascinating method to save future of apple industry: 'We have an opportunity to taste back in time'

"When we first embarked on this project we were overwhelmed by the public interest."

"When we first embarked on this project we were overwhelmed by the public interest."

Photo Credit: Royal Horticultural Society

A future without a cherished apple-picking season is unthinkable to some, but a fascinating project in the United Kingdom may ultimately provide the tools to prevent this type of scenario.

The Guardian reported that the University of Bristol and craft cider maker Sandford Orchards will be examining the genetics of apples from "rare and important orchards" to find "survivor varieties" that could be more resilient to changes in climate. 

In addition to providing value to the economy, the apple orchards in the UK support pollinators and biodiversity, according to horticulturists who spoke with the news outlet. 

"When we first embarked on this project we were overwhelmed by the public interest. The sheer volume of samples we received by post is testament to the importance of apples in the U.K.'s food landscape," said University of Bristol emeritus professor Keith Edwards, who works in biological sciences. 

A recent survey by national trade body British Apples & Pears described the apple industry as being on "a knife edge," with high production costs and decreased returns among the factors impacting its survival.

"This situation is unsustainable," BAPL executive chair Ali Capper said in the report. "... I've never heard such desperation from our members. When you think about what a good news story our industry should be, it's heartbreaking. Apples are a superfood — great for our health, the environment, and our rural economy."

As has been the case with other popular food products, more frequent extreme weather events caused by a warming planet have also contributed to apple-growing challenges. According to the Guardian, 80% of the UK's small orchards have shut down since 1900. 

However, a thriving local industry will help limit harmful pollution generated by importing goods. A study published by Nature Food found that 36% of "food mile" pollution is from fruit and vegetable transport, nearly double the amount of heat-trapping gases created during production.

Ultimately, the team from the University of Bristol and Sandford Orchards is hopeful that the samples from the Royal Horticultural Society garden Rosemoor will help them identify varieties that will lead to the preservation of apple diversity — and the fruit's survival. 

"The aim of this project is to find great apples, whether that be for fermenting, cooking or eating. In identifying 'survivors' that have not been propagated or kept in a collection, we have an opportunity to taste back in time and celebrate the incredible diversity of apples that are native to this country," Sandford Orchards founder and owner Barny Butterfield told the Guardian. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider