(March 24, STAFF COLUMN) It’s not like the apple category is lacking when it comes to a wide variety of delicious, nutritious fruit.

But researchers at Washington State University and the University of Washington envision a future in which cutting-edge technology will take apple production to a whole new level (See Story, Page B3, in the March 24 print or digital editions of The Packer).

Researchers like Amit Dhingra, an assistant professor of genomics and biotechnology at WSU, say they are closing in on sequencing the DNA of a golden delicious apple.

The consequences of that for the apple industry, they say, would be enormous. With the ability to pinpoint which genes in an apple control flavor, nutritional content, pest-resistance, etc., breeders could turn out new and improved varieties in a matter of months, not years.

And it’s not just apple producers who would benefit. Researchers say their work also could benefit the pear, cherry, peach, almond, apricot, strawberry and raspberry industries.

As Dhingra took great pains to point out at the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s annual Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in August in Chicago, there’s a world of difference between modifying apples using genes from other species — not the future he’s envisioning — and using genetic knowledge to breed apples the old-fashioned way.

Industry members have stepped up to the plate to help make the vision of Dhingra and other Washington-based scientists a reality. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Committee, for example, has given a $32,000 grant for the project.

But much more is needed. Dhingra said it will take at least $2 million to map the golden delicious. Another $8 million would be needed to assign functions to every gene in the golden.

Genetic mapping is a tool too valuable to be shelved because of lack of funding.