Arctic apples are a group of trademarked apples that contain a nonbrowning trait (when the apples are subjected to mechanical damage, such as slicing or bruising, the apple flesh remains as its original color) introduced through biotechnology. They were developed through a process of genetic engineering by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. Specifically, gene silencing reduces the expression of polyphenol oxidase (PPO), thus preventing the fruit from browning. It is the first genetically engineered apple to be approved for commercial sale, though Innate potato varieties that were improved through biotechnology have also been approved for sale in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Government of Canada in 2017, determined that Arctic apples are as safe and nutritious as conventional apples.
Developing nonbrowning Arctic apples relies upon a technique called RNA-interference (RNAi). This approach enables silencing of PPO expression to less than 10% of its normal expression, but does not change other aspects of the apple. The RNAi process is accomplished through the use of a transgene that uses gene sequences that control PPO production. Promoter and terminator gene sequences are used to support the implementation of PPO suppression genes, as is a marker gene which produces a protein (called NPTII) that makes the plant tissue resistant to the antibiotic kanamycin, allowing transformed plants to metabolize neomycin and kanamycin antibiotics. This step is used to confirm that silencing PPO was successful.
Regulatory approval and safety
Okanagan Specialty Fruits successfully petitioned for regulatory approval for two apple varieties in Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada and in the US from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), part of the United States Department of Agriculture. Varieties that have received U.S. approval include Arctic Golden (called GD743) and Arctic Granny (GS784) in 2015, and Arctic Fuji (NF872) in 2016. Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny varieties were both approved in Canada in 2015. The Arctic Fuji (NF872) was approved in Canada in 2018. Approval of the apple was opposed by GE Free BC and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
The US FDA stated that the safety evaluation of Arctic apples "ensures that food safety issues were resolved prior to commercial distribution", and the Government of Canada stated "that the genetically modified "Arctic apple" is as safe for humans, livestock and the environment as conventional apples."
As of late 2017, the Arctic Golden variety began retail sales as packaged, preservative-free apple slices. Packaging bears Arctic branding including their "snowflake" logo and a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone to inform consumers about the safety and non-browning benefits via the company website.
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- "Petition for Determination of Nonregulated Status: Arctic™ Apple (Malus x domestica) Events GD743 and GS784" (PDF). USDA APHIS. 21 February 2012.
- "PPO silencing". Okanagan Specialty Fruits. 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
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- "USDA Announces Deregulation of Non-Browning Apples" (PDF). USDA APHIS. 13 February 2015.
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- "The Benefits of Arctic Apples". Arctic Apples. Okanagan Specialty Fruits. 2017.
- Gerlock, Grant (1 February 2017). "Why The Arctic Apple Means You May Be Seeing More GMOs At The Store". National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved 20 February 2017.