5 December 1997

A University of Queensland researcher has cloned and patented the gene which controls fruit ripening and flowering in pineapples.

Dr Jose (Jimmy) Botella's research team, of the University's Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory, discovered and cloned the gene, which has been patented by the University's technology transfer company, UniQuest Limited.

Dr Botella said the project was a major step towards mechanised harvesting of pineapples, which until now have been harvested by hand because of difficulties in achieving uniform fruiting times.

'Farmers spray pineapple plants with a liquid which releases ethylene, the ripening gas, beginning the flowering and fruiting process,' he said.

'However, if there are cold nights, up to 20 percent of plants have natural flowering before farmers have an opportunity to spray.

'The implication is that several passes are needed to harvest pineapples, adding considerably to industry costs and preventing mechanised harvesting.

'Synchronised flowering and harvesting would increase our competitiveness against pineapple producers in the Asia/Pacific region with lower labour costs.'

Dr Botella said the project aimed to introduce a gene to block flowering by natural causes so flowering could be artificially controlled.

The three-year project has been achieved in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and funded by the Golden Circle company in Brisbane and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation.

'The Golden Circle company is very progressive and recognises the huge potential of this project,' Dr Botella said.

'They have provided real financial backing as a long-term investment in the Australian pineapple industry, something that should be emulated by other Australian companies.'

The University is negotiating with one of the world's largest biotechnology companies, DNA Plant Technology of the U.S., to use the gene in Queensland field trials for the world's first transgenic pineapples.

If the project receives Government approval, the University of Queensland researchers plan to grow out the plants, and study them in trials in collaboration with the Golden Circle company over the next four to five years, selecting the best plant lines for use by farmers in export markets.

For further information, contact Dr Botella, telephone 07 3365 1128, email: j.botella@botany.uq.edu.au