Fresh produce, fresh economy

On the urban campus of Georgia State University where grass is sparse and the trees are far and few between, microbiologist and professor George Pierce made a groundbreaking agricultural discovery that will keep fruits and vegetables ripe for a substantially longer amount of time.

The Georgia State biology professor found a naturally occurring microorganism in soil that prompts enzymes to form within the plant. The enzymes allow the fruit of the plant to sustain itself and remain fresh by controlling the plant’s diet.

In addition, this microorganism also allows flowers to stay in bloom longer.

“We change the diet of the organism, and we can change its performance,” Pierce told Jeremy Craig, a public relations specialist and science writer for Georgia State University.

The minuscule microorganism is not genetically altered or pathogenic. It is instead benign to plants, allowing them to double the time fruits and vegetables will remain ripe.

For example, bananas treated with the natural organism can stay ripe for up to two weeks, according to Pierce, and peaches stay ripe for 10 days, which is auspicious news for farmers of the peach state.

“These beneficial soil microorganisms serve essentially the same function as eating yogurt as a probiotic to have beneficial organisms living in the gastrointestinal system,” Pierce explained.

Not only is this discovery convenient for those who are constantly throwing away fruits and vegetables because their produce is quickly turning brown and bruised, but it also has considerable economic potential.

This natural preservative will soon allow shipping companies to send fruits and vegetables farther distances and have a longer shelf life in stores.

With the Natural Resource Defense council releasing a report back in August stating that about 40 percent, or $165 billion worth, of food is wasted each year by Americans, this discovery by Pierce could help begin to chip away the amount of wasted produce at stores and in homes.

Pierce spoke in December at the University System of Georgia Chancellor’s Economic Development Forum that was held at Georgia State University.

The forum focused on the importance of university lab research in helping to bring new innovation to the marketplace and assisting in creating economic prosperity.

“People in a university are just as active in coming up with ideas,” said Pierce. “This is one of the reasons why prior to the 1960s, the number one supporter of research at U.S. universities was American industry. I think people now, with the economy being such as it is, are looking at industry to take a role again in research.”

Pierce’s discovery has already been granted three patents, with more in the works from the U.S. Patent Office. The Georgia State University Research Foundation owns the patents for Pierce’s discovery.