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The stiffening of the cell walls observed during physiological softening of pears

Zdunek, Artur, Kozioł, Arkadiusz, Cybulska, Justyna, Lekka, Małgorzata, Pieczywek, Piotr M.
Planta 2016 v.243 no.2 pp. 519-529
Pyrus communis, atomic force microscopy, cell walls, chelating agents, correlation, cultivars, firmness, fruit quality, fruits, galacturonic acid, mechanical properties, models, pears, pectinesterase, pectins, polygalacturonase, shelf life, sodium carbonate, water content
MAIN CONCLUSION : The Young’s modulus of the primary cell walls of pears decreases linearly during the pre-harvest on-tree maturation and increases during postharvest storage, and does not correlate with firmness of fruit. The determination of mechanical properties of cell walls is indispensable for understanding the mechanism of physiological softening and deterioration of quality of fruits during postharvest storage. The Young’s modulus of the primary cell walls from pear fruit (Pyrus communis L., cultivars ‘Conference’ and ‘Xenia’) during pre-harvest maturation and postharvest storage in an ambient atmosphere at 2 °C followed by shelf life was studied using atomic force microscopy (AFM). The results were related to the firmness of fruits, galacturonic acid content in water, chelator, sodium carbonate and insoluble pectin fractions, polygalacturonase and pectin methylesterase activities. The Young’s modulus of the primary cell walls decreased linearly during the last month of pre-harvest maturation from 3.2 ± 1.8 to 1.1 ± 0.7 MPa for ‘Conference’ and from 1.9 ± 1.2 to 0.2 ± 0.1 MPa for ‘Xenia’ which correlated with linear firmness decrease. During postharvest storage the cell wall Young’s modulus increased while firmness continued to decrease. Correlation analysis for the entire period of the experiment showed a lack of straightforward relation between the Young’s modulus of primary cell walls and fruit firmness. The Young’s modulus of cell walls correlated negatively either with galacturonic acid content in sodium carbonate soluble pectin (‘Conference’) or with insoluble pectin fractions (‘Xenia’) and positively with polygalacturonase activity. It was therefore evidenced that covalently linked pectins play the key role for the stiffness of fruit cell walls. Based on the obtained results, the model explaining the fruit transition from firm and crispy to soft and mealy was proposed.