How many times have you bitten into a succulent plum only to have the experience soured by having to grapple with a clingy little plum pit – or worse yet, chomped down on that pit. Evidently, a few Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have done just that, sufficiently often enough to want to figure out how to take the pit out of the plum.
In an article published in the April issue of Agricultural Research magazine, Sharon Durham reports that ARS scientists have made significant progress in identifying and understanding the genes that control pit formation in plums, which is the first step in a project to develop pitless varieties of the anti-oxidant-rich fruit.
Durham writes that ARS molecular biologists Chris Dardick and Ann Callahan and Prunus breeder Ralph Scorza at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va., discovered a set of lignin-production controlling genes that is turned on specifically in pit tissue, but not the flesh or skin, just before hardening of the stone. The genes are then quieted shortly after the pit hardens.
The idea of pitless fruits is not new. In the early 1900s, Luther Burbank, a legendary horticulturalist, crossed a partially stoneless wild plum with California French prune varieties. These crosses led to commercial-quality fruit that almost completely lacked the stone, but still contained the seed. In the current study, scientists used samples of Burbank's crosses in their work.
If they are successful with creating a palatable stoneless plum, growers and consumers should see stoneless cherries, peaches and apricots in the future as well. And since the research project is shedding new light on lignin genetics and biosynthesis, the results will likely make significant contributions to biofuels and forestry sectors as well. This is exciting stuff.
Photo by Mark Demuth
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.