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  • Author or Editor: Steven van Nocker x
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Abscission of leaves, floral organs, and fruit is a developmentally and environmentally regulated process initiated in specialized thin layers of cells within abscission zones (AZs). Very little is known about early molecular events that drive abscission, especially of fruit. Commercial apple production relies on the use of flower and fruit abscission-promoting and -inhibiting compounds to enhance fruit quality, control preharvest fruit drop, and maintain consistent annual bearing. The success of chemical treatments is strongly influenced by numerous factors, including environment, genotype, developmental stage of the fruit, and physiological state of the tree. Toward developing improved strategies for regulating fruit abscission, we carried out transcriptional profiling of competent-quiescent and activated abscission layers. We found that a decisive event in the sequential process of abscission layer development is the transcriptional activation of the MdPEL1 gene, encoding a plant pectate lyase protein and potentially involved in the degradation of the middle lamella of adjacent abscission layer cells. Additionally, regulatory elements of at least 12 homologous pectate lyase genes in Arabidopsis thaliana were found to direct expression in floral AZs and in dehiscence zones along valve margins, suggesting that these genes have evolutionary conserved function. This work identifies a novel role for pectate lyases in plants. Furthermore, many abscission-related genes identified in this study are being used to track biochemical and regulatory pathways that participate in abscission in response to chemical treatments or environmental effects.

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A preliminary understanding of developmental processes among divergent species is essential to evaluate the applicability of information from model species to plants of agricultural importance. In tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.), where the molecular biology associated with fruit ripening has been studied most extensively, tissue softening is due at least in part to the activity of proteins called expansins, in concert with enzymatic activities that modify the pectin and xyloglucan components of the cell wall. We evaluated the potential for the concerted action of expansins and other cell wall-modifying enzymes during ripening in a highly divergent fruit species, sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L.). We identified a family of four expansin genes that was strongly upregulated at the advent of ripening. Activation of these genes was accompanied by strong upregulation of gene(s) encoding potential pectin methylesterases, pectate lyase(s), and xyloglucan endotransglycosylase(s). Initiation of ripening and gene induction were also associated with a rapid decrease in cell wall weight. These results suggest that expansin and several other distinct activities could be involved in ripening-associated cell wall modification in cherries.

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