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Hybridization, GMOs and Honeycrisp Apples

Honeycrisp ApplesWe don’t mind admitting that honeycrisp apples, a fairly recent newcomer to the world of apples, are our favorite apple for just plain eating. Their tartness balanced with a suggestive sweetness and the snap that comes with biting into one make for one of fall’s great gastronomic experiences. The apple, developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960 and released to growers and consumers in 1994, also helps illustrate a common misconception regarding genetically-modified organisms and those developed through hybridization.

The honeycrisp was developed by cross-pollination of two previously known apples: the honeygold, itself a cross between the golden delicious and the honeygold, and the Macoun. While this process can happen naturally by the wind or various pollinators (like bees), the honeycrisp was given help. The trees that produced the honeycrisp were hybridized, much like some of the tomato seed you might have used in your garden (though these are nearly always “sterile” hybrids which do not produce “true” seed or seed that will result in the same hybrid… but they will self-pollinate to produce fruit). Honeycrisp seed is also not true and will not produce like trees (most fruit trees are propagated through grafting, root-cuttings and layering, new types can only be developed through cross pollination, according to David Bedford, a scientist in the University of Minnesota’s horticultural department). While the tree’s seed is sterile, established trees will bear true fruit if pollinated with group four apple pollinators which includes Fuji, gala, golden delicious and several other apple types.

The evolution of “sweet” apples, as opposed to “bitter” apples (like crab apples) happened naturally, four to six thousand years ago. Cross-pollination also happens naturally between plant types and species that are genetically accepting of each other. But genetically-modified plants have DNA changes forced upon them in a laboratory. No such change could happen immediately in nature (without dozens or even thousands of years of evolution). And the results of forcing DNA material into a plant’s genetics can have unexpected, undesired consequences. A genetically-modified potato that produces its own insecticide might seem like a great idea, but in reality proved¬†dangerous.

Now, I’m no botanist. And if the explanation above seems a bit difficult, please forgive me. But the point is this: next time you see some GMO supporter in the comments section of a blog or the letters section of a newspaper claiming that hybridization through cross-pollination, grafting or other means is exactly the same thing as what scientist do on the cellular level when they force genetic material into the DNA of an existing plant (while suggesting that those leery of GMOs are dumb or worse), don’t believe it. As the potato example above proves, GMO foods require testing and once tested, the fair dissemination of the results. There’s too much at risk, as past tests on GMO-produced foodstuffs have shown. And often, the corporations that are developing GMO vegetables and fruits have motivations other than producing a quality product, including creating plants resistant to herbicides, giving longer shelf life for perishable products (including such things as apples that don’t turn brown), or, like those potatoes, vegetables that will kill the insects that attack them. Often, the unstated reason, is to control sales. Seed patents on crops resistant to patented herbicides mean big money. The honeycrisp was also patented by the University of Minnesota but that patent has expired (here’s a link to a wonderful story on the honeycrisp and the University’s breeding program). Given the choice between a GMO potato and a hybridized apple, this honeycrisp lover will take the apple every time.

20 Responses to “Hybridization, GMOs and Honeycrisp Apples”

  1. Sandra on October 18th, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Thank you! :) Love’em apples

  2. Simi on April 18th, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Nicely explained, this common misconception is used within the GMOs supporters and the gmo makers to confuse the uneducated or not well informed about GMOs. If you also follow the money trail there lies the answer
    why we have GMOs today; it’s not to feed the world but……exactly…..the most shocking part is that our government has shaken hands with them. At last a question about an apple, have you seen sprouted apple seeds inside an apple? Why would it sprout?

    • Anonymous on April 19th, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      More than likely a defect. It is possible the apple was stored in cold storage. In order for the seed to sprout it needs cold and dark. Inside the apple is dark and cold storage provided the cold needed for the seed to sprout. It is quite common

  3. jenny on September 28th, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    This article helped me better understand the difference between natures hybrid foods and GMO foods. Honey crisp apples are my fav. They are quite expensive at almost $4.00/lb in Ontario. I stopped buying them assuming they must be GMO. I am pleased to hear that they are not GMO.

  4. Jon e O on December 12th, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Extremely well written, thank you.

  5. Ruthie on December 14th, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Reassuring/ Thank you

  6. Reggie on January 26th, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    “No such change could happen immediately in nature (without dozens or even thousands of years of evolution).”

    So I don’t understand? Are you just bothered by things that happen fast? Furthermore, cross-pollination could take dozens or thousands of years as well if left to nature. I mean, apples have been around for tens of thousands of years and never made a honeycrisp until man helped out. What (besides timing) is the difference?

  7. Dan on January 29th, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Um…. Sounds exactly like a GMO to me. How is it different? It seems like the only difference that you’ve pointed out is that this didn’t happen in a lab.

    • Christie on December 1st, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

      Exactly. The DNA is not artificially tampered with in a hybrid.

  8. LP on February 17th, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    If honeycrisp is not a GMO, but just a hybrid, and if hybrids are very different from GMOs according to the above post, why then does honeycrisp not turn brown when sliced?

    • EriNC on March 30th, 2015 at 6:51 am #

      Honeycrisp apples do turn brown when sliced. It just takes longer. The difference is that GMO foods are forced to evolve in a short time period through genetic changes, while with hybridized foods the process is natural. While no evidence has stated that GMO foods are bad. There is also no evidence that they are good, and money is being pushed to make sure that it isn’t researched. Personally I would be interested to know when GMO foods first appeared on the market, and the incidence of cancer afterward.

  9. Don on February 19th, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    You guys already nailed the main flaw with this argument: that one can happen suddenly and the other takes longer does not tell us anything about safety. I’ll just add that GMO crops require USDA , EU, or other governmental approval, while hybrids require zero testing. Only one method has documented cases of ever making anyone sick. Hint: It’s not GMOs.

    • Ann-Marie on September 13th, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

      Nope – you’re wrong! There is a huge difference between GMO and Hybrid. The introduction of a different species’ DNA into a plant is the GMO process – that’s not natural! The Arctic apple is one example of a GMO variety that we simply DO NOT NEED or want on our planet! Bees can not tell the difference between GMOs and non-GMOs and will be part of the cross-pollination! GMO plant seeds are coated with pesticides, supposedly to protect it from pests without needing pesticides later on – but in actuality, the plant contains the pesticides, and so then, does the fruit! Do you want to be eating pesticides? This is one of the problems facing bee populations today, as well. They are ingesting pesticides from GMO crops! No one in their right mind would make the decision to increase the use of GMOs. Unfortunately, corporations seem to have a hold on these decision-makers! Human safety or the continuation of pollinators doesn’t come into the equation!

  10. Jocko Homo Amadeus on March 16th, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

    Let’s call the GMO apple the “Vampire Apple” because IT WON’T DIE!

  11. marvin on April 18th, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    GMO is injection of dna of one completely different species into another that in no way in nature would cross, to get a trait they desire in one from another. Nothing wrong with hybrids, corn was made by South Americans from a grass plant.

    • Dylan on January 26th, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      I keep hearing the word natural being used to describe something as being different from another thing, this website is labeled planetnatural I assume to promote this narrative. What exists that isn’t a part of nature? What exists that isn’t natural? Is a beehive natural? Is a beaver dam natural? How about a mole hill? What about a sky scraper? Is an airplane natural? The answer is yes, they are all natural, everything that exists is natural, everything humans make or do is natural because we are a part of nature. Cannibalism is natural, unsavory sure but natural none-the-less. So now that we have proven that using the word natural to suggest one thing is better than another is intellectually dishonest I think we can move on. Whether its a Hybrid or a GMO we create the results we desire and both practices are equally natural. Fact.

  12. Marie Koch on October 21st, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    If I have precut HoneyCrisp that are not browning when refrigerated a week, might they be GMO and HoneyCrisp? They are also neatly cut so that no seeds are in the apples.

  13. Eileen on September 15th, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    What does it mean if an apple has no seeds in them and they don’t get brown after cutting up – say half an hour later. (Bought it from fairways, and had organic label in it!)

  14. mike on October 14th, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    if you are going to give an example as you claim you did with the “potato” example note that it requires saying more then that it is a bad idea to make it an example…. which by the way is all you said about it….. also while I admit that “todays” genetic engineering is done poorly in a lot of ways, it is essential…. there are currently 7.5 billion people in this world simply because humans can not maintain the level of self control required to make the choice to stop reproducing endlessly…. because of this we are polluting and consuming the resources of this planet at a suicidal rate…. genetic engineering is required because THAT is how you feed 7.5 billion plus people…. but creating plants that reproduce faster, survive weather conditions, blight, insects and so on is absolutely necessary for the survival of the human race…. if people want to be able to survive without genetic engineering as a requisite to there survival, then perhaps they should agree that we need to stop polluting this world with endless reproduction of the species, and what we are doing IS pollution…. because our endless reproduction IS destroying the planet…. the day we can call our endless reproduction what it is, is the day we can stop acting impulsively, and begin the act of repairing the damage we are doing by lowering our numbers…. as a start….

    • Carrie on November 22nd, 2017 at 5:18 pm #


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