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Biotechnology in postharvest research of fruits: prospects and achievements

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Purpose of review: This article highlights inroads made by biotechnological approaches in improving the quality and postharvest shelf-life of fruits among various reports in the recent five years. Biotechnological research has fostered new approaches that aid in understanding ripening mechanisms and can be applied in addressing challenges of postharvest losses of fresh fruits.

Recent findings: Recent studies have demonstrated that ripening comprises regulatory networks, rather than a pathway. These studies have provided evidence that positive transcriptional regulation for ACS and ACO genes and the potential genetic network involving ethylene and homeotic proteins, including CNR, HB-1 and MADS-box proteins (such as RIN, TAG1 and ALQ/TAGL1), may regulate the fruit ripening process. The RIN and CNR may be good candidates for controlling ripening and prolonging shelf-life in both climacteric and non climacteric fruits than is currently possible via ethylene control alone. Characterisation of a tomato APETALA2 gene, (SIAP2a) transcription factor, demonstrated its negative role in influencing the ripening process by modulating ethylene and carotenoid pigmentation, essential for tomato fruit colour and nutrient quality. The identification of SIAP2a as a negative transcriptional regulator of fruit ripening presents an additional biotechnological tool for modifying the quality and nutritional value of fruit crops. Screening of mature mutagenised tomato plants, combined with extensive fruit metabolic QTL mapping, holds the promise of numerous additional functionally defined loci that will become increasingly accessible as part of expanding genomics resources. The generation and integration of "omic" data (transcriptome, proteome, metabolome, and phenome), in combination with functional analysis has been useful in pinpointing candidate regulatory genes linked to compositional changes and fruit development. Targeting Induced Local Lesions IN Genomes (TILLING) has been applied in identifying a melon mutant line which exhibits longer fruit maturation, enhanced fruit firmness and delayed fruit yellowing, which are economically important traits for melon fruit breeders. A new and simple vector- and selectable marker-free melon transformation system which bypasses in vitro culture and plant regeneration, has been demonstrated to be a cost efficient system for obtaining positive transgenic plants.

Limitations: New approaches are needed that involve more comprehensive models of the biochemical and physiological elements that contribute to fruit 'firmness'. A major constraint in making further advances in biotechnological control of fruit ripening is the lack of large mutant populations required for gene identification in tomato and other important fruit species.

Directions of future research: The discovery of additional transcriptional factors that control the members of ACS and ACS genes demonstrate the interactions between the identified regulatory networks and other genes. Application of reverse genetics approaches such as TILLING, screening of mature mutagenised fruits, combined with extensive fruit metabolic QTL mapping and generation of 'omics' data to narrow the expressional candidate genes to specific subsets of genes that can be further used for biotechnological applications aimed at increasing the sensorial, nutritional values and postharvest shelf-life of fruits. Further, there is an urgent need to develop high-throughput transformation and regeneration protocols for various other fruits which are economically important and where postharvest spoilage is high.
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