Help is on the Way ...Now, ARS scientists in Geneva are working to use seeds, roots, and other parts from apple trees in Central Asia to make U.S. apples stand up better to those diseases.
During the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent scientists to Asia and Europe to collect seeds, rootstocks, germplasm and other material from trees that can link U.S. apple trees to their Asian ancestors. Click here to learn more about rootstocks and germplasm.
In all, the scientists collected 130,000 seeds from 949 apple trees in the wilds of Central Asia alone! In addition, they collected cuttings of the most interesting 50 trees that they observed. These were grafted, and now Forsline and his fellow researchers have exact replicas of those 50 trees growing at the ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva.
Forsline and plant geneticist Gennaro Fazio are finding that some of that plant material from Asia can indeed help make our apple trees stand up better to diseases. In groves and greenhouses outside of Geneva, they’ve planted seeds and trees from Kazakhstan and then tested them against diseases. They've also mixed the germplasm of those trees with that of U.S. trees, and have grafted U.S. trees to Asian rootstocks.
Forsline says the Kazak trees showed big-time resistance to apple scab, and they did pretty well against fire blight. Fazio found that the Kazak rootstocks could fend off microbes in the soil that cause diseases such as collar rot.
So, who knows? By the time everything’s said and done, distant Asian relatives of today’s apple trees may one day lead to better apples than the world has ever known and even change the entire apple industry.