Discovering Genes That Control Tomato Ripening

Jenn Hoskins
2nd April, 2024

Discovering Genes That Control Tomato Ripening

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Scientists in China discovered six genes that affect tomato ripening
  • Four genes speed up ripening, while two slow it down
  • These genes work by modifying how other ripening-related genes behave
Understanding the intricacies of fruit ripening is essential not only for improving the quality of our food but also for enhancing the shelf life of fresh produce. The process of ripening in fruits like tomatoes is a complex dance of genetic and environmental factors that work together to turn a green, hard tomato into a red, juicy one. Scientists at China Agricultural University have made a significant leap in our understanding of this process by identifying six new players in the ripening game: methyltransferase (MTase) genes[1]. Methyltransferases are enzymes that work by adding methyl groups—a chemical compound consisting of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms—to other molecules. This modification can profoundly affect how genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA sequence, a phenomenon known as epigenetic regulation. Previous research has shown that epigenetic changes, such as DNA methylation and histone modification, are crucial in regulating fruit ripening[2][3][4]. However, the role of MTases, beyond those involved in DNA methylation, was not well understood. The team from China Agricultural University conducted a genome-wide screening and identified 35 MTase genes that were highly expressed at the breaker stage—the critical point when a tomato begins to ripen. From these, six genes were pinpointed as potential regulators of fruit ripening using a technique called virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS). This method allows researchers to 'turn off' specific genes and observe the outcomes on the plant. The study found that four of these MTase genes appear to promote ripening, while two seem to inhibit it. The expression patterns of these genes varied during the ripening process and responded differently to external factors such as ethylene—a plant hormone known to trigger ripening in many fruits[2], temperature, and light exposure. Ethylene's role in fruit ripening is well-documented, and it has been shown that ethylene response factors (ERFs) are key in this process[3]. ERFs can turn genes on or off, leading to the ripening of the fruit. The current study expands on this knowledge by suggesting that MTases could be modifying the activity of such ERFs or other ripening-related genes, thereby influencing the ripening process. Furthermore, earlier studies have highlighted the importance of histone modification, such as methylation and acetylation, in the regulation of fruit ripening[2][3][4]. For instance, demethylases like SlJMJ7 were found to be negative regulators that directly affect the expression of ripening-related genes by removing methyl groups from histones[4]. The latest findings from China Agricultural University complement these studies by suggesting that MTases may have a broader role in histone modification, potentially influencing the ripening process through mechanisms that are yet to be fully understood. The discovery of these six MTase genes is significant because it opens up new avenues for research into the regulation of fruit ripening. By understanding how these genes function and interact with other known regulators, scientists can develop new strategies to control the ripening process. This could lead to tomatoes that ripen at a more desirable rate, improving their taste, nutrient content, and longevity after harvest. In conclusion, the work done by researchers at China Agricultural University has shed light on the complex network of genetic regulation behind tomato fruit ripening. By identifying new MTase genes and demonstrating their roles in this process, this study not only advances our scientific knowledge but also holds promise for practical applications in agriculture and the fresh produce industry. The integration of these findings with previous research[2][3][4] further emphasizes the multifaceted nature of fruit ripening, a vital developmental stage that ultimately affects the food on our tables.

BiotechGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) Identification and virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) analysis of methyltransferase affecting tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruit ripening.

Published 1st April, 2024

Journal: Planta

Issue: Vol 259, Issue 5, Apr 2024

Related Studies

2) Regulatory network of fruit ripening: current understanding and future challenges.

3) SlERF.F12 modulates the transition to ripening in tomato fruit by recruiting the co-repressor TOPLESS and histone deacetylases to repress key ripening genes.

4) SlJMJ7 orchestrates tomato fruit ripening via crosstalk between H3K4me3 and DML2-mediated DNA demethylation.

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