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The linkage between cell wall metabolism and fruit softening: looking to the future



The softening that accompanies ripening of commercially important fruits exacerbates damage incurred during shipping and handling and increases pathogen susceptibility. Thus, postharvest biologists have studied fruit softening to identify ways to manage ripening and optimise fruit quality. Studies, generally based on the premise that cell wall polysaccharide breakdown causes ripening-associated softening, have not provided the insights needed to genetically engineer, or selectively breed for, fruits whose softening can be adequately controlled. Herein it is argued that a more holistic view of fruit softening is required. Polysaccharide metabolism is undoubtedly important, but understanding this requires a full appreciation of wall structure and how wall components interact to provide strength. Consideration must be given to wall assembly as well as to wall disassembly. Furthermore, the apoplast must be considered as a developmentally and biochemically distinct, dynamic ‘compartment’, not just the location of the cell wall structural matrix. New analytical approaches for enhancing the ability to understand wall structure and metabolism are discussed. Fruit cells regulate their turgor pressure as well as cell wall integrity as they ripen, and it is proposed that future studies of fruit softening should include attempts to understand the bases of cell- and tissue-level turgor regulation if the goal of optimising softening control is to be reached. Finally, recent studies show that cell wall breakdown provides sugar substrates that fuel other important cellular pathways and processes. These connections must be explored so that optimisation of softening does not lead to decreases in other aspects of fruit quality. Copyright © 2007 Society of Chemical Industry