Apple grows from long interest in science

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Summerland, B.C., holds genetically modified Arctic Golden and Granny apples at the Washington State Horticultural Association's annual meeting, Wenatchee, Wash., Dec. 2. The gene that causes the apples to brown after being sliced has been switched off.

Neal Carter, 56, was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., and received his bachelor’s degree in bioresource engineering from the University of British Columbia in 1982.

His wife, Louisa, also from Vancouver, has a degree in forestry.

From 1983 to 1995, they lived in more than 50 countries while he did agricultural development work for Ottawa-based Agrodev Canada. He helped build large irrigated farms in the Middle East, worked on crop diversification in Bangladesh, fisheries development in Thailand and privatization of former state-owned farms in Mongolia. Many of his projects, he said, involved increasing productivity and reducing costs. Much of it involved growing, harvesting, packing, storing and processing many crops, from maize to mango.

Wanting to be closer to his family, the Carters moved to the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia in 1995. They bought an orchard and grew apples and cherries while he continued international work until 2007.

Carter was looking for ways to reduce browning and postharvest losses, in the mid-1990s, when he learned of Australian genetic research into silencing genes that cause browning. He obtained rights to the technique initially for slicing potatoes, but the potato industry wasn’t interested so he switched his focus to apples.

He formed Okanagan Specialty Fruits in 1996 and set up a research laboratory in Saskatchewan. Since 1999, it has been headed by John Armstrong, a molecular biologist, who is also skilled in intellectual property and regulatory work.

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