2 March 2000

A Queensland project involving the world's first transgenic pineapples will be good for the Australian economy and good news for consumers, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

UQ botanist Dr Jose (Jimmy) Botella said the home- grown project could lower production costs, and lead to cheaper pineapples picked at the time of maximum goodness and flavour.

"We're using a naturally occurring pineapple gene to improve the product for consumers and farmers," Dr Botella said.

"Our research group is leading the world in cloning the gene which controls flowering in pineapples. The new gene will allow us to synchronise flowering and
provide a better product.

"It's very safe, and there are benefits for Australia in combating the flow of cheap pineapples into the country by making our pineapples cheaper, tastier and more competitive.

"With synchronised ripening, pineapples can be picked at the right time to contain maximum proteins, vitamins and sugars. The project is environmentally friendly aiming to produce less waste from harvesting over-ripe or under-ripe fruit. The work has been scrupulously examined and endorsed by the Federal Government Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee as meeting all their safety protocols."

The University's Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory discovered and cloned the gene, which has been patented by UQ technology transfer company, UniQuest Limited.

Dr Botella said a small experimental crop had been planted in association with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries to prove that the technology worked. If successful, it would be followed by field trials in the next few years. There was no possibility of potential environmental hazards because there are no commercial pineapple plantations in the area. In addition, pineapples do not produce seeds and therefore can only spread with human intervention, he said.

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

"Farmers normally 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 experience natural flowering before farmers have an opportunity to spray.

"The implication is that several passes are needed to harvest pineapples, adding considerably to industry and consumer 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."

For further information, contact Dr Botella, telephone 07 3365 1128, email: