Abstract: It is known that fruit ripening is a genetically programmed event but it is not entirely clear what metabolic cue(s) stimulate the onset of ripening, ethylene action notwithstanding. Here, we examined the conjecture that fruit ripening might be evoked by an autonomously induced decrease in tissue water status. We found decline in water content occurring at the onset of ripening in climacteric and nonclimacteric fruit, suggesting that this phenomenon might be universal. This decline in water content persisted throughout the ripening process in some fruit, whereas in others it reversed during the progression of the ripening process. Applied ethylene also induced a decrease in water content in potato (Solanum tuberosum) tubers. In ethylene-mutant tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruit (antisense to1-aminocyclopropane carboxylate synthase), cold-induced decline in water content stimulated onset of ripening processes apparently independently of ethylene action, suggesting cause-and-effect relationship between decreasing water content and onset of ripening. The decline in tissue water content, occurring naturally or induced by ethylene, was strongly correlated with a decrease in hydration (swelling) efficacy of cell wall preparations suggesting that hydration dynamics of cell walls might account for changes in tissue moisture content. Extent of cell wall swelling was, in turn, related to the degree of oxidative cross-linking of wall-bound phenolic acids, suggesting that oxidant-induced wall restructuring might mediate cell wall and, thus, fruit tissue hydration status. We propose that oxidant-induced cell wall remodeling and consequent wall dehydration might evoke stress signaling for the onset of ripening processes.
Practical Application: This study suggests that decline in fruit water content is an early event in fruit ripening. This information may be used to gauge fruit maturity for appropriate harvest date and for processing. Control of fruit hydration state might be used to regulate the onset of fruit ripening.