Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pineapple Research Institute

According to an article by Y.K. Chan, G. Coppens d'Eeckenbrugge and G.M. Sanewski, the Pineapple Growers Association established a pineapple breeding station in 1914. Y.K. Chan et al., Breeding & Variety Improvement, in The Pineapple: Botany Production & Uses 33 (D.P. Bartholomew et al., eds., 2003). This station eventually became the Pineapple Research Institute (PRI).

Renowned pineapple geneticist (and former PRI director) J.L. Collins wrote in 1960: "The most complete collection of pineapple species and varieties is the one maintained in Hawaii by the Pineapple Research Institute. This collection constitutes a living herbarium of pineapple types and a reservoir of pineapple genotypes and germ-plasm. It has been developed by private enterprise and the material is not available for general distribution." J.L. Collins, The Pineapple: Botany, Cultivation & Utilization (1st ed. 1960).

According to Chan et al., one of the main objectives of the PRI was to develop an improved variety of the Smooth Cayenne, but no such variety was ever successfully developed. Chan et al., at 33. (However, the Gold pineapple, mentioned below, would appear to be such an improved variety.) The PRI closed in 1975 and "a small number of the PRI varieties and genetic collection were turned over to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) germplasm repository in 1986." Id. at 34. The old PRI grounds are now occupied by an intergenerational education center.

The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has recently published an excellent article about its pineapple collection in Hilo, Hawaii, which presumably contains the PRI varieties mentioned above. The pineapple collection is officially part of the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Tropical and Subtropical Fruit and Nut Crops.

The ARS collection includes nearly 200 pineapples and related plants. Of particular note are the Cheese Pine, which may be the sweetest pineapple in the collection with the highest vitamin C content, and the Saigon Red, an ornamental miniature pineapple that is sometimes only 5 inches tall when fully grown. (Update: In response to an inquiry by the Pineapple Blog, ARS officials have explained that it is the fruit of the Saigon Red that is sometimes only 5 inches tall, not the entire plant.)

The ARS reports that it is currently pursuing a new pineapple genetic fingerprinting initiative, which uses a more sensitive technology, amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP). With AFLP, researchers have found clear genetic differences between the wild red pineapple (Ananas comosus var. bracteatus) and other pineapples in the collection. A principal aim of the fingerprinting initiative is to preserve the pineapple's genetic diversity, crucial to disease and pest resistance.

(Click here for another account of the dissolution of the PRI. Click here for an article about an intellectual property dispute between Del Monte Fresh Produce and the Maui Pineapple Co. regarding the Gold pineapple, which was developed at the PRI.)

(This post has been updated.)