help, please

Michael Benedik bchs1b at Elroy.UH.EDU
Wed Jul 20 12:33:36 EST 1994


In article <30j7kq$afi at clarknet.clark.net>, jbesser at clark.net (James D. Besser) writes:
>Help!
> 
>I'm an author working on a project that requires some scientific
>expertise, and I need some EXPERT help.
> 
>Specifically, I have to answer this question: why do genetically
>altered/engineered/fiddled with fruits and vegitables taste so bad?
> 
>Are they selected for qualities that have nothing to do with taste? Is
>there something inherent in the fiddling process that ruins taste? Is it
>simply that strains of produce were favored in the past for flavor
>reasons, but in the unpalatable present are favored for reasons of
>storage, shipment, etc?
> 
>I need to know (and to present to readers) the science behind the
>answers to this question--but in pretty basic terms.
> 
>I will provide full credit in the finished book for any answers I use.
>If I use your material, I will also E-mail you the relevant segment so
>you can check for accuracy (and make sure I'm not making you look
>stupid!)
> 
>Please let me know a few bio details I can use to identify you.
> 
>Please reply by E-mail; I don't want to clutter up the group with such
>basic stuff!
> 
>Thanks,
>Jim Besser
>jbesser at clark.net
> 
> 
>

First of all there are virtually no genetically engineered fruits or 
vegetables on the market. The only exception is the new Flavr-Savr tomato
which is being test marketed in a few places. Genetic engineering being
the technique of intoducing new genes or altering existing genes in
an organism.

Most of the fruits and vegetables you are referring to were isolated by
classical plant breeding (mating) techniques where they either looked for
mutant plants with properties they were interested in, or they constructed
hybrids between existing strains to generate new hybrids with new and
useful properties.

Now as to the question of why fruits and vegetables don't taste as good
as they used to. Well I am not a real expert in this (my expertise in
is in genetic engineering). But I think it is safe to say there are a 
number of reasons. It clearly will depend upon which fruit or vegetable
you are thinking about. Certainly in some cases breeders selected for
some trait such as improved growth, improved production, improved size or
color, improved resistance to disease and insects, improved tolerance to
heat or draught. These are very important traits to agriculture. In some
cases there  may have been an accidental loss of some feature which is 
involved in taste. I think it probably is safe to say that some loss in
taste is allowable. 

However I suspect the most dramatic loss of taste has to do with technology
of modern agriculture and not breeding. In the old days of small gardens
etc plants were grown under conditions presumably optimal for them and fruit
vegetables were picked when ripe. Now things must be grown for optimal yield,
I don't know what effect this has but you can readily imagine that dense
planting with lots of fertilizer will have some effect on growth of fruits/veg.
Equally important is that most things are probably picked from the plant
early, before they are ripe. Because it takes many days to transport from
the field to the distributor to the store and to you. Ripe things would
be rotten by then. Ripening fruits and vegies in the field is generally
far superior (based on my home garden) than picking early and letting
them ripen at room temp or in the frig. 

In my humble opinion this early picking of things is probably the main
reason why things don't taste as good as when you buy them from
a farm stand where they were picked that day or the day before.

Michael Benedik
Associate Professor of Biochemical Sciences
University of Houston
(PhD Stanford University in Biology specializing in molecular genetics)


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 Michael Benedik				INTERNET: Benedik at uh.edu
 Dept. of Biochemical & Biophysical Sciences	
 University of Houston				BITNET: Benedik at uhou
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