Researchers prepare to release UF914, a new grapefruit that may not cause "grapefruit effect"

LAKE ALFRED, Fla. - This month, researchers at the University of Florida will release a new strain of grapefruit they've worked on for more than a decade.

It started with the hope to create the juiciest, sweetest, meatiest grapefruit on the market. The father was a triploid Florida grapefruit. The mother was a pomelo.

"We needed to make a cross between the two parents," explained UF Citrus Geneticist Chunxian Chen.

But just like most children, you never know exactly what you'll get.

"The greatest discoveries are always made by accident," Fred Gmitter smiled. "You're looking for something and come onto something else."

Chen and Gmitter, professor of citrus genetics at the University of Florida, came across UF 914, which is missing a chemical found in other grapefruits. That chemical causes the so-called "grapefruit effect" in people taking common medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety, even heartburn.

"It enables the body to take up more of the medicine than it should be taking, so you get potentially dangerous levels of the medicines in your blood stream," Gmitter said.

So far, lab tests show UF 914 has no effect on those medicines.

"It looks really good and has high potential," Chen said.

UF 914 is good news for Florida's citrus market, because a large portion of patients on such medications are senior citizens, also a major grapefruit consumer.

"That's one of the reasons the grapefruit market's been declining," Gmitter said. "So this, perhaps, can help overcome that part of the problem."

UF 914 still faces clinical trial, but researchers will release it to growers this month. They'll turn the 10 trees that exist now into the quarter million needed for consumer-level production.

Then grapefruit lovers can finally buy it. They just have to wait about 5 more years. Gmitter and Chen believe they will.

"They miss their grapefruit. They ate a grapefruit every day and now their doctor tells them they can't eat a grapefruit and they want grapefruit," Gmitter said. "They want it in the worst way."

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