Pineapple revelations and bioterrorism

My whole life I’ve wondered why the hell anyone eats pineapple. While the flavor is nice, it’s woody and fibrous and nearly impossible to chew through.

Pineapple: evil fruit of evilness. Photo by David Hilowitz on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Until I ate pineapple this Christmas. At first I only snagged a slice to be polite, but when I took a bite it was sweet and succulent and melted in my mouth. I thought I’d reached Nirvana. I would have eaten the whole fruit if I could have pushed everyone else out of the way.

Apparently my whole life I’ve been eating unripe pineapple. 99% of New Zealand pineapples come from the Philippines, from Mindanao Island. It takes weeks to get them to my supermarket. They’re picked unripe, because it prevents the risk of including over-ripe, rotting fruit in the shipment. The kicker is pineapple won’t ripen by itself once it’s picked. It will get softer – eventually – and change color, but it won’t get any sweeter. That gross chewy, woody texture? Unripe pineapple has chitinase inside it. Chitinase, aka the stuff that makes exoskeletons.

rosemary beetle, flickr, Katja Schulz.jpg
Delicious pineapple-y goodness, aka Chrysolina americana. Photo by Sonja Schulz on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Side note:  pineapple eats you back. The flesh contains the enzyme Bromelain. Bromelain digest proteins. When your tongue and cheeks feel weird after eating pineapple, that’s because the Bromelain has started to dissolve the surface layers of your mouth tissue. That’s also why you can’t put fresh pineapple in jello. The enzymes dissolve the gelatin proteins- from all that finger-licking skin, horn, cartilage, and bone donated by our animals friends – and it won’t set.

Okay, but back to the chitinase. Chitinase has anti-fungal properties. Humans are now cloning chitinase from pineapples using e-coli bacteria, and using it to control Rhizoctonia solani, which kills cotton seedlings.

cotton seedlins.jpg
Cotton seedlings with Rhizoctonia solani. It mushes the root systems and stops the seedlings getting nutrients. The cotton plants starves to death.

The reason it’s important to develop new, effective anti-bacterials and anti-fungals is because bioterrorism is the next up and coming thing. Who needs a jihadist with a Boeing when a few harmless-looking hikers can infect crops with something like an adapted strain of Pythium ultimum and wipe out an entire year’s harvest of wheat, potatoes, corn, and soybean in one fell swoop, state wide. Nation wide. Hell, given enough people, world wide.

x Watery wound rot Pythium ultimum.jpg
Pythium ultimum damage in a potato, aka watery wound rot.

The University of South Florida Center for Biological Defence is working on developing ways of inoculating plants, in preparation for just such bioterrorism attacks. You don’t need an army any more, to create a famine of Leningrad.

Pineapple is helping.

These are things I did not know yesterday.

I fucking love living in the 21st century.


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