Investigation of Regulatory Mechanisms of Chemical-Mediated Fruit Thinning in Apple (Malus X Domestica Borkh.)
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Fruit thinning is critical to the success of apple industry because most apple trees are prone to biennial bearing characterized by heavy bloom and over-cropping in the â onâ year and low or no cropping in the â offâ year. Fruit thinning can improve fruit size, increase return bloom, and reduce alternate bearing habit of apple trees. Chemical thinning has been widely used as a horticultural practice by growers for years in apple and other fruit production. However, its thinning results are often variable and very difficult to predict since parameters as well as their interactions (e.g. concentration, environmental condition, cultivar response) that affect thinning effectiveness have been poorly defined and the regulatory mechanisms at molecular level remain to be illustrated. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to characterize the physiological and molecular responses of the apple trees to the thinning treatments, and then use key genes as molecular markers for screening potential thinning agents. The long-term goal is to understand how the applied chemicals and environmental factors interact and regulate key regulatory genes as well as the thinning effectiveness during thinning process, and establish a predictable model for the improvement of fruit thinning consistency and effectiveness in apple and other fruit trees. Effects of naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA), shading, amimoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG) and 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) on young apple fruit abscission, leaf and fruit ethylene production, and the expression of genes related to ethylene biosynthesis, perception and cell wall degradation were examined in â Golden Deliciousâ apples (Malus x domestica borkh.). NAA at 15 mgâ ¢L-1 and shading increased fruit abscission and ethylene production of leaves and fruit when applied at a 12-mm stage of fruit development, whereas AVG, an inhibitor of ethylene biosynthesis, at 250 mgâ ¢L-1 reduced NAA-induced fruit abscission and ethylene production of leaves and fruit. 1-MCP at 160 mgâ ¢L-1 had no effect on fruit abscission but induced ethylene production by both leaves and fruit. Changes in the gene expression pattern responding to each treatment were analyzed by real-time quantitative PCR. NAA treatment was found to enhance the expression of genes related to ethylene biosynthesis (MdACS5A, MdACS5B and MdACO1) and perception (MdETR1, MdETR1b, MdETR2, MdERS1 and MdERS2). AVG reduced NAA-induced expression of these genes except for MdERS2 in the fruit abscission zone (FAZ). NAA increased the expression of a polygalacturonase gene (MdPG2) in the FAZ but not in the fruit cortex (FC), whereas AVG reduced NAA-enhanced expression of MdPG2 in the FAZ. These results suggest that ethylene biosynthesis, ethylene perception, and MdPG2 gene are involved in young fruit abscission caused by NAA. On the other hand, 1-MCP did not affect the expression of MdACS5A and MdACS5B in the FAZ, although it enhanced the expression of these two genes in the FC from 6 to 24 hours post-treatment. The expression of MdACO1 in both tissues was increased by 1-MCP after 3 or more days post-treatment. 1-MCP had only a small influence on the expression of most ethylene receptor genes, with the exception of MdETR1, which was up-regulated in the FC to a level similar to that observed for NAA treatment. In response to 1-MCP, in the FAZ, the expression of MdCel1 and MdPG2 was up-regulated at the beginning and the end, respectively, of the experiment, but otherwise remained at or below control levels. 1-MCP did not inhibit NAA-induced abscission of young apple fruit, suggesting that abscission does not solely depend on ethylene signal transduction, or that the periods of effectiveness for 1-MCP and ethylene were asynchronous in this study. Gene expression analysis also revealed that both NAA and shading enhanced the expression of gene related to ABA biosynthesis in the FAZ, which suggested the involvement of ABA in young fruit abscission. Global gene expression profile during young fruit abscission was analyzed using an apple oligonucleotide microarray. More than 700 genes were identified with reproducible changes in transcript abundance in the FAZ after NAA treatment. Genes associated with abscission, ethylene, ABA, cell wall degradation, mitochondrial activity, glycolysis, lipid catabolism, secondary metabolism, abiotic stress, and apoptosis were upregulated, while genes involved in regulation of cell cycle, cell wall biosynthesis, photosynthesis, carbon fixation, chromatin assembly, auxin transport/efflux, cytoskeleton function, and flower development were generally downregulated. Comparison of changes in the gene expression patterns during NAA-induced fruit abscission with shading-induced fruit abscission revealed similarities, but also considerable differences. The data suggested that young fruit were shutting down growth and energy production and undergoing a certain kind of programmed cell death (PCD) induced by these different stimuli. Gene expression analysis in abscising young fruit revealed that photosynthesis, carbon utilization, and ABA/ethylene pathways appeared to operate in both NAA- and shading-induced fruit abscission. However, more sugar signaling genes were regulated in shading-induced fruit abscission, compared to NAA-induced fruit abscission.
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