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Contribute to apple database and identify what type of tree is growing in your garden

Press release issued: 3 September 2020

Scientists from the University of Bristol are asking people in the local area who have ‘unknown’ varieties of apple trees in their garden, allotment or neighbourhood to collect a few leaves and send them in to them.

It’s all part of ongoing research carried out by Professor Keith Edwards and his team from the University’s School of Biological Sciences which has developed a genotyping system – similar to human DNA fingerprinting – which can rapidly and easily identify apple varieties.

For the system to work the team needed to generate a database of known varieties and with John Thatcher at Thatcher’s Cider in Somerset, Liz Copas – the last pomologist employed at the University’s Long Ashton Research Centre (which closed in 2003) and Brogdale – the national fruit collection, they sampled the cider apples from the Thatcher’s Heritage Orchard.

Now in the next stage of the project, funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the team want to catalogue as many apple trees as possible but also investigate what makes a good cider apple variety and if, in the future, their genotyping procedure can be used to generate a disease resistant, high-quality cider apple variety.

The work has already produced one research paper, published last year in the journal Plants, People, Planets in which the fingerprinting procedure was used to discover the parentage of a number of local cider apple varieties collectively known as ‘The Girls’.

These were bred at the Long Ashton Research Centre which was created in 1903 to study and improve the West Country cider industry. After becoming part of the University of Bristol in 1912, it expanded into other fruit research and most famously developed the blackcurrant drink Ribena in the 1930s.

After their parentage was lost, Professor Edwards and his team were able use their system to identify the lineage of the ‘The Girls’ and now they are being planted on a sizable scale for cider production.

Professor Edwards said: “To identify ‘unknown’ apple trees we need help from the local community, we want to ask people in the Bristol area, who have apple trees they don’t know the name of in their garden, to collect a few leaves and send them to us.

“We are asking that they give the apple leaf samples a code name, put this on a small plastic bag (one apple tree per plastic bag, three or four leaves) and either bring them to the Life Sciences Building in Tyndall Avenue or post them to me at 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, BS8 1TQ.

“Once we have tested all the samples we will put the results up on our website along with the codes given to the samples so people will be able to find out what their tree is if it a named variety.”

In 2019, the UK cider sector was worth £3.1 billion with exports, representing 38 percent of the global cider market, reaching approximately £100 million.

The success of the sector is reflected in the more than 500 UK cider makers that, collectively, employ over 10,000 people, many in the West Country. At the core of UK cider production is the availability of a large collection of apple cultivars exhibiting a rich array of flavours and aromas.

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