April 2, 2020
March 27, 2020
Ethylene (C2H4) is a small hydrocarbon, which is colorless and odorless. This gaseous phytohormone that is produced by plants has various valuable applications in the agriculture industry. It can be both beneficial and harmful because it promotes and inhibits plant growth and development at various stages in a plant’s life. It is, however, best known for its ripening effect on fruit.
Ethylene has three pathways which produce a variety of effects on plants depending on their sensitivity to it and their life stage. The three modes of actions are:
Once ripening is underway, it, in turn, triggers the production of more ethylene to continue the process of ripening.
Ethylene can affect all parts of a plant as a result of its three pathways.
Ethylene levels are an important consideration in agriculture due to ethylene’s positive applications and the problems it creates for the food industry.
Ethylene can increase profits by extending the time from harvest to the shop, and by improving the quality and quantity of food. The gas can be delivered through ethephon (a liquid), a cylinder, or a catalytic generator.
Being a gas, ethylene spreads out of a piece of fruit and into the environment when it is produced and quickens the ripening of other fruit nearby. Moreover, “one rotten apple can spoil the whole basket,” if the process continues unchecked.
Not all fruit and vegetables produce or need ethylene. For example, cherries and blueberries do not. However, many temperate and tropical fruits do start to ripen when exposed to heightened ethylene levels.
In both cases, where ethylene needs to be added or removed to maintain fruit quality, it is necessary to measure levels of ethylene to avoid wasting the gas or to prevent the spoilage of produce, respectively. Different methods can be used to measure ethylene in the air.
When recorded levels during storage and transport are high, there are many techniques that can be used to control the level of ethylene, such as scrubbing, ventilation, or the use of UV radiation.
Besides removing ethylene, many measures can be taken to prevent the spread and accumulation of ethylene by separating fruits producing the gas from ones sensitive to it. Other methods include keeping temperatures low, reducing oxygen content, and increasing carbon dioxide levels to inhibit ethylene production in fruits. In every case, precise and regular measurement of the levels of ethylene is essential to monitoring its level and effects.
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture
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