For the first time, a team of 86 scientists have sequenced the genetic code of the Golden Delicious. This discovery could improve new apple varieties, which could be more resistant to diseases.

It took two years for scientists to unravel the code – the largest plant genome uncovered to date. Professor Riccardo Velasco, at the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy, who led the research team, said on BBC News:

The sequencing of the genome would have huge implications for applied breeding. This breakthrough will help us to develop high quality traits and bring new things to the apple market.

Kate Evans from Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Centre said the discovery ‘would help sustainable production of apples’.

Scientists hope improvements to the popular Golden Delicious variety will enhance the taste, look, and crunchiness of the fruit.

The researchers were also able to trace the apple’s ancestry, and found out that the domestic fruit’s wild ancestor Malus sieversii was originally grown in Kazakhstan.

There are more than 7,500 varieties of apple known today.

A large number of genes can give plants a competitive advantage, providing more in-built defences against disease. Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Yet, there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation and food labeling.

We must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.

See more on Nature Genetics.