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Functional characterization of a tomato COBRA-like gene functioning in fruit development and ripening

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2229-12-211

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We identified a tomato gene (SlCOBRA-like) homologous to Arabidopsis COBRA, and determined its role in fleshy fruit biology. The SlCOBRA-like gene is highly expressed in vegetative organs and in early fruit development, but its expression in fruit declines dramatically during ripening stages, implying a primary role in early fruit development. Fruit-specific suppression of SlCOBRA-like resulted in impaired cell wall integrity and up-regulation of genes encoding proteins involved in cell wall degradation during early fruit development. In contrast, fruit-specific overexpression of SlCOBRA-like resulted in increased wall thickness of fruit epidermal cells, more collenchymatous cells beneath the epidermis, elevated levels of cellulose and reduced pectin solubilization in the pericarp cells of red ripe fruits. Moreover, transgenic tomato fruits overexpressing SlCOBRA-like exhibited desirable early development phenotypes including enhanced firmness and a prolonged shelf life.Our results suggest that SlCOBRA-like plays an important role in fruit cell wall architecture and provides a potential genetic tool for extending the shelf life of tomato and potentially additional fruits.The ripening of fleshy fruits involves a number of physiological processes including the production of aromatic compounds, nutrients, pigmentation, and softening of flesh to an edible texture [1,2]. These processes have direct impacts not only on fruit firmness, color, flavor and nutritional content, but also on shelf life, consumer acceptability, processing qualities, in addition to pre- and postharvest disease resistance [1,2]. Excessive fruit softening is the main factor contributing to damage during shipping, storage and post-harvest handling [3]. Fruit firmness and texture also affect the integrity of chopped and diced fruit used for canning and fruit products [4]. Because postharvest losses of fresh fruits due to excessive softening can account for as much as 30~40% of total production, consid


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