Perfection in Pale Peach GENETIC ENGINEERING

By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

Perfection in Pale Peach GENETIC ENGINEERING


David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Consider the peach. It's the fruit you love to drip down your chin on a summer day. Sweet smelling and deliciously juicy. But oh so fragile and a quick spoiler.

Will there ever be a perfect, flawless peach?

Wayne Sherman says yes. At the University of Florida at Gainesville over the last 32 years, he has reached inside peaches, added and subtracted some genes, slowed down the ripening, added some color, and toughened them a little. The result of his recent efforts, according to Mr. Sherman and others, is the almost perfect peach. The name of this beauty is UFGold, now under a patent to the University of Florida and suitable for growing in subtropic areas. Sherman, a horticulture professor at the university, is one of the preeminent plant breeders in the world. His UFGold peach is so new that orchards now growing the variety in California, Australia, Mexico, Spain, and Morocco won't harvest commercial crops until 2001. The characteristics of the UFGold variety, called a "nonmelting" peach, are a combination of sweet taste, handsome color, and a firmness to survive shipping and enjoy a longer shelf life. "And they can be left on the trees longer so they become sweeter," Sherman says. "Melting" varieties of peaches tend to soften on trees, which means they have to be picked sooner to get to market, thereby sacrificing optimum sweetness. This helps explain why many supermarket peaches can be bland, and peaches bought at roadside stands surrounded by peach trees can make grown people ooh and aah. Sherman was awarded a 1998 US Department of Agriculture Honor Award for UFGold as well as recognition for 32 years of pioneering research in peaches, blueberries, nectarines, and other fruits. "I was floored that a poor Mississippi farm boy would be so honored," he says in his lyrical Southern voice. "My wife made me buy a suit to go to the ceremony in Washington." Sherman's work has helped producers all over the world to remain competitive even while the peach industry has declined. Bad weather such as early frosts on the East Coast plus peach-tree diseases and falling prices have weakened the industry. Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Sherman. What is your definition of a perfect peach? It's one you can buy in a store, and it would taste just like you picked it off the tree, firm and fully ripe. We are getting close to that. What is missing? The one thing that I could add is some superhigh flavors or aromas. I've just found some peaches with these aromas, much better than any commercial peaches today. I've tasted these, and what amazes me is that I can be full of peaches, and then I smell one of these and I want another one. …

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