Plant Science Post

Plant Biotechnology Can Delay Ripening in Fruits

June 6, 2016
Food Quality & Nutrition

Ripening is the end of the maturation process of certain fruits, when they become sweeter, softer and juicier. Upon its onset, ripening only takes a few days before the fruit starts to decay. This unavoidable process can lead to great losses from the farm to consumer but plant biotechnology can help reduce spoilage by delaying fruit ripening.

Scientists have been working to delay fruit ripening so that farmers can harvest fruits later to better optimize their flavor. This technology can also reduce spoilage of fruits during transportation, storage and after purchase because they will ripen more slowly and be less susceptible to damage. Climacteric fruits, such as apples, bananas, apricots, melons and tomatoes, are most suitable to the delayed ripening trait. That’s because they ripen due to increased production of the plant hormone ethylene and cellular respiration.

Climacteric fruits are usually harvested before they have ripened – the ripening can happen rapidly during transit and storage. Tomatoes, for example, take about 45-55 days to reach full maturity before they undergo ripening. Non-climacteric fruits like strawberries and oranges do not ripen after harvesting so they are usually picked upon full ripening for maximum flavor.

Farmers often pick climacteric fruits like tomatoes when they’re still green so they can survive shipping. The ripening process is then induced by spraying them with ethylene gas at their destination. For long transportation, fresh produce is refrigerated to delay ripening. In both cases, taste and quality may be compromised.

There are several ways scientists can control the ripening process through biotechnology. They can control the amount of ethylene a fruit produces by “switching off” or decreasing it. Or they can modify a fruit’s ethylene receptors. These biotech methods can extend a fruit’s shelf life, reduce food waste and make imported fruits available in new and different marketplaces.