HoneySweet Plum Trees: A Transgenic Answer to the Plum Pox Problem

Tonight's dessert is plum cake:

Tante Lissy's Flaumen Kuchen (Plum Cake)

1 c Butter
1 c Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp Almond extract (or vanilla)
1 tsp Salt
1 c White fl our
1 c Barley
10 Plums, pitted and cut in half
2 Tbsp warmed apricot jam

1. Beat together butter and sugar. Add in egg, almond or vanilla extract,
and salt.
2. Mix in fl our and barley to form a dough.
3. Pat 2/3 of the dough into an ï¸-inch pan with removable rim. Arrange plums,
cut side down, in pan.
4. Lattice rest of dough on top; drizzle with apricot jam.
5. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.

I saved some Santa Rosa plums last summer and froze them for just such an occasion.
We are lucky to have an orchard with plenty of "stone" fruits such as apricots and
peaches, and I hope that they will always thrive here, but I am not sure. Stone fruits are
susceptible to plum pox virus (PPV), which has been a devastating disease in Europe
since the early 1900s. In 1992, PPV was reported for the first time in Chile, and in 1998
was found in an Adams County, Pennsylvania orchard. Although the disease remains
localized at this time, the only known method of control, in the case of an outbreak, is
to pull up the trees and bulldoze them before the disease spreads to other parts of the
Americas. Because of this threat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed a GE plum variety, called HoneySweet, that is resistant to disease, applying a similar technique that was used to engineer papaya for resistance to papaya ringspot virus. The GE trees look like their non-GE female parent, a commercial cultivar developed through conventional breeding and their fruit tastes the same. In an interview with ARS staff, horticulturist Ralph Scorza said "It's
basically immune to the plum pox virus. We've shown that it is resistant to all major
strains of the virus that we've tested".


Recent outbreaks in New York and Michigan underscore that PPV is becoming endemic despite containment efforts (bulldozing and disposal of infected vegetation, moratoria on the movement/transport of infected plant materials, and control of insect vectors). Because the aphid vectors of the disease are common throughout the U.S., the occurrence of PPV in this major plum-producing area could devastate the industry and affect world supplies of product. This devastation has been the case in countries where PPV has already spread. In fact, the disease is classified as an invasive species in the U.S. because of the significant economic losses that result to the orchard industry.

'HoneySweet' plum which is highly resistant to Plum pox virus has been deregulated by APHIS and cleared by FDA. EPA registration is the final regulatory process for 'HoneySweet' plum in the U.S. The proposed registration is now open for public comment.

The comment period is 30 days from April 1. To submit a comment to the above website click on the "comment due" balloon at the bottom of the page. The EPA documents for your reference can be accessed on the cited website by checking the "supporting & related material" box at the top of the page.

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Cool! I love seeing that good work is being done in the fruit world. My favorite areas are genetic engineering of fruits and breeding underutilized fruits (like pawpaw, goumi, medlar, ect.). Good to see at least one is getting done. I've gotta get me a plum someday, the only drupes I've got are a peach, a pair of cherries, and a prinsepia. I wish the plum hybrids like pluots & apriums grew well where I live.

I always hope that these sort of projects will smooth out the whole anti-GE thing. It is free of most of the arguments that are used against GE. It's a tree crop, so farmers don't have to buy seed every year, so that one's out. It isn't made to work with a particular chemical, so that one's out too. Cross pollination isn't an issue because fruit trees are propagated by grafting, so that argument is also out. It wasn't made by a corporation, so that one is out too. And it has a direct benefit to the grower. It seems that the only argument left is that it's genetically modified, which isn't much of an argument at all, and to keep moving that goalpost and playing some sort of wuzzy appeal to long term consequences and talk about the problems that are always going to come tomorrow (never today, always tomorrow). Were not people also against the very similar Rainbow papaya? Although given the short lifespan of the papaya plant they must be reseeded periodically, but this one doesn't even have that. I always think that ones like this plum will separate anyone with reasonable social concern from people who are just, well, plain downright don't like GE and that's that (yet still try to give an air of reasonableness to what can only be considered a personal bias).

I'm hopeful, though somewhat doubtful, that something like this will bring more acceptance to genetic engineering. It's a nice thought anyway.

By Party Cactus (not verified) on 01 May 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the heads-up on this, I made it in time. You know, we really need a science network like other communities have established to act on these sorts of things.

I think we've kinda stayed out of science activism (for some legitimate reasons), but it is hurting us on topics like this. I have seen the same thing talking to friends in public health on vaccines issues. Cranks show up at public meetings. Scientists--not so much.

(Thanks PZ for flagging this too--he's a good mechanism, but it shouldn't rely on any individual.)

I commented, but I'm not sure if they include comments from other countries. They certainly dont make it easy either.

I envy the USA, that such things are possible. So far, not one GM variety has been approved for release here. Hell, it took TWO YEARS of government indecision before Plant and Food Research gave up and flew some de-cored GM apples (apple genes into apple)they developed over to the US for taste testing.

By Hinemoana (not verified) on 01 May 2010 #permalink

This was a pretty darn good cake Pamela, thanks for sharing the recipe. I am currently looking into growing plum trees indoors, hopefully I will have some success with it.

I think what we're seeing is that conservatives tend to be more fixed in their opinions. Exposure to new information is simply less likely to cause them to change their opinions.