Kiwifruit are classified as climacteric since exogenous ethylene (or its analogue propylene) induces rapid ripening accompanied by ethylene production under positive feedback regulation. However, most of the ripening-associated changes (Phase 1 ripening) in kiwifruit during storage and on-vine occur largely in the absence of any detectable ethylene. This ripening behavior is often attributed to basal levels of system I ethylene, although it is suggested to be modulated by low temperature.
To elucidate the mechanisms regulating Phase 1 ripening in kiwifruit, a comparative transcriptome analysis using fruit continuously exposed to propylene (at 20 °C), and during storage at 5 °C and 20 °C was conducted. Propylene exposure induced kiwifruit softening, reduction of titratable acidity (TA), increase in soluble solids content (SSC) and ethylene production within 5 days. During storage, softening and reduction of TA occurred faster in fruit at 5 °C compared to 20 °C although no endogenous ethylene production was detected. Transcriptome analysis revealed 3761 ripening-related differentially expressed genes (DEGs), of which 2742 were up-regulated by propylene while 1058 were up-regulated by low temperature. Propylene exclusively up-regulated 2112 DEGs including those associated with ethylene biosynthesis and ripening such as AcACS1, AcACO2, AcPL1, AcXET1, Acβ-GAL, AcAAT, AcERF6 and AcNAC7. Similarly, low temperature exclusively up-regulated 467 DEGS including AcACO3, AcPL2, AcPMEi, AcADH, Acβ-AMY2, AcGA2ox2, AcNAC5 and AcbZIP2 among others. A considerable number of DEGs such as AcPG, AcEXP1, AcXET2, Acβ-AMY1, AcGA2ox1, AcNAC6, AcMADS1 and AcbZIP1 were up-regulated by either propylene or low temperature. Frequent 1-MCP treatments failed to inhibit the accelerated ripening and up-regulation of associated DEGs by low temperature indicating that the changes were independent of ethylene. On-vine kiwifruit ripening proceeded in the absence of any detectable endogenous ethylene production, and coincided with increased expression of low temperature-responsive DEGs as well as the decrease in environmental temperature.
These results indicate that kiwifruit possess both ethylene-dependent and low temperature-modulated ripening mechanisms that are distinct and independent of each other. The current work provides a foundation for elaborating the control of these two ripening mechanisms in kiwifruit.