Scientists uncover way to control tomato ripening

Scientists at the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences have discovered how the overall process of fruit ripening in tomato (including colour changes and softening) can be changed – speeded up or slowed down – by modifying the expression of a single protein located in subcellular organelles called the plastids.

In tomato, the fruit ripening process involves dramatic changes in tiny “organelles” inside the fruit cells called plastids. It is these plastids that are responsible for giving colour to the fruit.

In spite of their central importance in delivering fruit colour, surprisingly little was known about how plastids participate in the ripening process.

In work funded by BBSRC, the Oxford team has now discovered a function in fruit for a protein located in the plastids called SP1, revealing an important regulatory or controlling role for plastids in the fruit ripening process in tomato. The results provide a theoretical basis for the modification or manipulation of the ripening of fleshy fruits such as tomato, providing a novel opportunity for crop improvement.

Professor Paul Jarvis from Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences, said, “The regulatory properties of SP1 revealed in our study show that it has real potential as a technology for crop improvement. For example, it could be used to develop early or late fruiting varieties of fleshy fruits, or to improve the transportability or shelf-life of fruit by delaying ripening without compromising the quality of the ripe fruit. It’s fascinating that the amount of a single protein in these tiny subcellular structures called plastids can have such far-reaching consequences for fruit ripening in tomato.”

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