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Spain: Researchers at the University of Córdoba delve deep into the genetic regulation of strawberry ripening

"Spain is the leading producer of strawberries in the EU, and the province of Huelva is the country's most important strawberry production area, accounting for nearly 95% of the national production."

"However, between 5 and 25% of the production is lost (depending on the variety) due to the softening that the fruit undergoes throughout its maturation, to infection by different pathogens, and to other factors that affect its quality," stated Francisco Javier Molina Hidalgo, a researcher of the 'Biotechnology and plant pharmacognosy' BIO278 group at the University of Córdoba (UCO).

"That's why strawberry is a particularly interesting crop for the application and development of plant biotechnology," he added. In this sense, this research group, led by Juan Muñoz Blanco, has developed two studies in which they have managed to advance and deepen the knowledge of molecular control of the strawberry's ripening process, the UCO stated.

Specifically, the BIO278 group has studied how DNA methylation, which is a mechanism that regulates gene expression, intervenes in the strawberry's ripening process. To verify this, the research team injected a chemical compound called 5-azacytidine into the strawberries. The function of this compound is to eliminate DNA methylation marks. This has made it possible to compare treated samples, which have lost methylation, with untreated samples, which maintained them.

The areas of the fruit treated with 5-azacytidine remained white, while the rest, which was untreated, matured normally. This means that the lack of methylation stops the ripening of the strawberries. Subsequent studies showed that treatment with 5-azacytidine altered the hormonal balance governing fruit maturation and the expression of genes involved in the biosynthesis and degradation of these hormones.

In addition, the researchers have described the function of the FanCXE1 gene (carboxylesterase), which plays an important role in the production of volatile strawberry compounds. These compounds arise during the ripening process and make up the fruit's aromas. Therefore, they greatly influence its quality.

Since carboxyl esterase is fundamental in the regulation of volatile compounds, "we propose this gene as a marker for breeding programs or as a target for genetic improvement with more current techniques," Molina Hidalgo stated.

The two studies, published in the journals BMC Plant Biology and Horticulture Research, provide new knowledge and tools that can help the strawberry industry and other fruit industries, as genetic improvement techniques can enhance the characteristics of the most attractive and healthy foods.



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