The XIV Plant Molecular Biology Meeting was recently held, presenting scientific news on topics of greatest interest to farmers, marketers and consumers, such as food taste.
The genetic study of plants is important because which genes are responsible for the taste and other sensory characteristics of fruits and vegetables. However, environmental conditions and how plant organisms respond to them are also decisive factors, as they determine whether genes can be expressed or not.
In this regard, David Posé Padilla, researcher at the Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture (IHSM, in Málaga), explains that his group’s interest is focused on the process of strawberry ripening: “Ripe is a development process in which the fruit acquires ideal organoleptic conditions, on example, taste. This serves to attract animals that will disperse the seeds, which has an important evolutionary and ecological role. For human beings, as consumers, it also has an important value. So we’re trying to identify the genes that are responsible for controlling this maturational development process.”
More precisely, his goal is to identify specific genes for fruit quality, not only taste, but also smell, hardness and “life after harvest, which is quite short in strawberries”.
For this study, researchers from Malaga are using transgenesis, the process of transferring genes from one organism to another. This means that it cannot have direct application with the current regulations. However, “they are genes that could be good candidates for modulation and obtaining strawberry varieties that have improved properties in terms of flavor or hardness.”
Antonio Granell, a scientist at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Plants (IBMCP, a joint center of CSIC and the Polytechnic University of Valencia), works with a similar idea, but in this case he focuses on tomatoes. Granell, who also participated in this meeting, published an article in Science last year that caused a great response: a chemical and genetic study that explains the steps needed to restore the typical tomato flavor, which has disappeared in most commercial varieties.
But genes do not determine everything in advance. Plant organisms are very sensitive to what is happening around them and regulate gene expression based on this. “If there is one thing that really distinguishes plants from animals, it is the interaction with the environment. Environmental conditions are what really determine the behavior of the plant, its development and growth patterns. In our laboratory, we are interested in seeing how different signals are integrated, such as temperature and light, and what involvement hormones have in regulating optimal gene expression at every moment of their lives,” says Miguel Ángel Blázquez, also from IBMCP. .
For her part, Myriam Calonje, from the Institute of Plant Biochemistry and Photosynthesis (IBVF, CSIC and University of Seville), assures that “it is very important to know how plants integrate all these types of signals from the environment to modify their development.” While other research groups are studying the reception of these signals, his team is trying to determine how the plant responds. “There are epigenetic mechanisms that can be transferred from mother cells to daughter cells, establishing some kind of memory of a situation or an external signal,” he says.
“Today, a lot of research is focused on achieving what are called epialleles, varieties that have the same genetic base but react differently because they have different epigenetic information, which is very important because it represents an increase in variability, without genetic variability, and has great application in finding varieties which are better adapted to some environments or others,” concluded the expert.