While the possibility of 'fermenting' genes to produce compounds has been well understood for many years, science has generally lagged behind in identifying which genes are needed to produce the desired outcome. HortResearch has now overcome this issue by using research initially intended to speed up the process of fruit breeding, says Dr Newcomb.
"Through decades of fruit breeding research HortResearch has developed extensive fruit gene and compound databases. Now we have developed techniques that help determine which genes create each compound, and how those compounds combine to create a flavour or fragrance. It's a complicated and time-consuming process ?some fruit flavours for example may be comprised of over thirty different compounds, each in a precise volume.
"Much of this information is fed back into the breeding programme, allowing naturally-bred new fruit varieties with desired traits to be quickly recognised amongst young breeding populations that frequently number in the tens of thousands.
"However, it is also possible for us to isolate genes that produce desirable flavour and fragrance compounds for use in industrial biotechnology applications."
HortResearch has proven the bioproduction concept can be used to produce fruit flavours and fragrances by perfectly recreating a fruit compound called alpha-farnesene, responsible for the distinctive aroma of green apples.
The company has filed international patent applications on the use of the applicable gene in creating the fragrance, and for another plant gene responsible for making a compound that smells like the heady scent of red roses.
Dr Newcomb says HortResearch scientists are continuing to seek new gene/compound combinations which they believe will find ready demand in the marketplace.
"Alongside colour, flavour and fragrance rank as some of the most important guides to the natural world. The ability for manufacturers t