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Evidence for a photoprotective function of low-temperature-induced anthocyanin accumulation in apple and pear peel




The light requirement and low-temperature stimulation of anthocyanin synthesis in peel of apple (Malus domestica) and pears (Pyrus communis) and the presence of anthocyanins in immature fruits are not congruent with a visual function in dispersal. We hypothesized that anthocyanins afford photoprotection to peel during low-temperature-induced light stress and that the protection is not a fortuitous side-effect of light absorption by anthocyanin. The extent of photoinhibition at harvest and after light stress treatment in pear cultivars differing in redness decreased with increasing red color on the sun-exposed sides of fruits. Green-shaded sides of the pears showed comparable levels of photoinhibition indicating that pears did not differ in their inherent photosensitivity. Apple and pear peel show considerable short-term fluctuation in redness in response to temperature, with red color increasing rapidly in response to low temperature and just as quickly fading in response to high temperature. Briefly, shading pears and apples during cold conditions for 2 days reduced the accumulation of anthocyanin and increased the photosensitivity of peel. Subsequent shading during warm conditions did not affect the accumulation of anthocyanin or the photosensitivity of peel indicating that the response at low temperature was not due to shade adaptation. The assessment of photosystem II (PSII) efficiency and quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence between 16 and 40°C indicated that ‘Forelle’ pear peel was particularly sensitive to photostress at low temperature. The photosynthetic system in mature ‘Forelle’ leaves was comparatively much less sensitive to light stress at low temperature. Results support the view that anthocyanins are adaptable light screens deployed to modulate light absorption in sensitive tissues such as fruit peel in response to environmental triggers such as cold front snaps.