Honeycrisp apple's ancestry traced through DNA analysis

A tasty Minnesota mystery, decades in the making, has been solved thanks to University of Minnesota researchers.

Through exhaustive analysis by a former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Howard, and U of M apple breeders, Jack Tillman, David Bedford, and Professor Jim Juby, the ancestral roots of the Honeycrisp, the iconic Minnesota apple, have been uncovered. 

The team was able to trace the apple’s origins back to two main apple varieties; the Duchess of Oldenburg, a Russian cultivar first brought to Minnesota in the late 1800s and the Reinette Franche – a French cultivar.

In a release, the University of Minnesota said Howard and his team, with the help of both national and international collaborators, put together a database of over 6,000 apple cultivars to trace the DNA back. 

"A large collaborative database effort, combined with new genetic techniques, allowed us to identify the specific parents, grandparents and even more distant ancestors of U of M cultivars," Howard said. "Based on these analyses we could confirm, correct or complete the parentage of 16 of the 22 cultivars introduced between 1920 and 1991."

The U of M says their apple breeding program began in 1908, but at first non-standardized practices and fragmented documentation clouded early results. By 1916, the program was much more standardized. 

Since then, the program has introduced 28 apple cultivars including the SweeTango, the Zestar, and the First Kiss.