By M. ABDURRAHMAN MAS, MSc
Faculty of Food Technology
Designer fruits are fruits which have a set of specific quality traits that makes the fruits more appealing to the customer compared to their non-designer counterparts. These traits range from the unique shape of the fruit, for example, a square watermelon, to other inherent traits such as a pineapple flavored strawberry, all of which make designer fruits a uniquely different compared to their non-designer counterparts.
Historically, designer fruits were made using a mixture of conventional techniques such as cross-breeding, or specialized techniques such as growing the watermelon in a box to create the square shape or covering strawberries up from the sunlight to make them white. Although many of these techniques are used all over the world to create different types of designer fruits, in Japan, a country with a long history of gifting fruits, you can find many of these designer fruits in high-class stores such as “Sembikiya” and some supermarkets.
This market in Japan is quite lucrative, square watermelons can 90 to 180 USD, for each watermelon, or each musk melon could range from 100 USD upwards depending on the size, where it’s grown, flavor, etc. Due to the lucrative nature of this industry, there is constant pressure to keep up with the current levels of technology to create even better fruits.
GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms, allowed for the implanting of a gene from another plant/animal into a target plant or animal, allowing the targeted plant or animal to do something it normally does not. For example, one can modify tobacco plants to make them produce malaria medication instead of nicotine or modify a crop to have immunity to a certain disease that it would normally be susceptible to. However, this kind of technology is seen to be very harmful if not done correctly, and there is poor consumer acceptance for most of the GMOs.
The currently new technology of CRISPR or more commonly known as gene editing. The difference between the two techniques is that gene editing, to put it very simply, is cutting out targeted sequences of genes, but not inserting anything to replace said gene. Compared to normal GMO techniques, gene editing has greater consumer acceptance.
This technology is now being used to modify certain fruits and vegetables to create special breeds of them, some researchers are taking steps in order to allow fruits that are not normally grown in a region before to be grown nowadays. The logical next step is to create designer fruits from this technology, and although some research is being done, such as creating seedless tomatoes, to sweeter strawberries, they have yet to reach the level of uniqueness that the Japanese designer fruits have reached already. However, since this technology is still relatively new, there is still much more room for improvement in the future.
• Niller, Eric. “Why Gene Editing Is the Next Food Revolution.” National Geographic, 10 Aug. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/future-of-food/food-technology-gene-editing/.
• Bosker, Bianca. “Why Should a Melon Cost As Much As a Car?” Slate, 27 Mar. 2017, slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/03/japans-high-end-fruit-market-elevates-produce-to-works-of-art.html.
• Ueta, R., C. Abe, et al. (2017). “Rapid breeding of parthenocarpic tomato plants using CRISPR/Cas9.” Scientific Reports 7(1): 507.