Apples to better apples; University develops Winecrisp

By Erik Allgood

An apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but this particular apple kept the doctor away for the almost 30 years he spent inventing it.

Schuyler Korban, professor of molecular genetics, and University researchers in the Department of Molecular Genetics recently developed the Winecrisp, an apple resistant to fungal disease.

Korban has been working on the project since 1981, and he said it is an important development because it reduces the number of chemicals used, the costs and labor required from the grower.

Korban said development of the Winecrisp took almost 30 years because the breeding of fruit trees is such a gradual process. Each breeding cycle takes between six and seven years, and several breeding cycles were necessary to create the desired traits.

“The program was originally an effort to get rid of a fungal disease called apple scab,” Korban said. “We found that by breeding other varieties of apples with crab apples we could make an apple resistant to scabbing.”

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Korban said hybrids such as the Winecrisp have to go through several generations in order to strengthen the desired traits. It is possible to have something that is scab resistant after one generation, but it will not be ready for sale. After several generations of careful breeding, Korban said they had developed a product that was both scab resistant and tasty.

“An apple that is resistant to apple scab requires much less fungicide to keep it healthy and viable for a market,” Korban said. “The average apple grower in Illinois has to spray his crops with several different sprays 15 to 20 times a season.”

Korban said that the reduction in fungicides used helps reduce the effects of the chemicals on the environment. It also cuts down on labor costs for the grower because they do not need to hire someone to spray the fields.

“Anything that cuts out all of those unnecessary chemicals is a good idea,” said Chelsey Scott, a Schnucks employee and a graduate of Parkland College. “As long as it maintains what I expect in an apple I am all for it.”

The University is working in conjunction with Rutgers and Purdue universities to test how well this species does in terms of growing across the country.

“It seems like a big step forward,” said Jake Samaan, junior in LAS. “Advances such as that could be great for this country and around the world.”

Right now, the Winecrisp apple trees on campus are bare, but in the spring, they will start to grow.

“Right now, we are trying to make it available to growers and have a patent pending,” Korban said. “We have already been contacted and are inviting any interested growers to apply for a license.”