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New Research Offers Cost-Effective Solutions for Ethylene Problems

New Research Offers Cost-Effective Solutions for Ethylene Problems Tomato With Ethylene

The tomato plant on the right has been exposed to ethylene.

Ethylene is an odorless, colorless gas that plays a role in seed germination, fruit ripening, leaf yellowing, etc., but too much ethylene can lead to product loss via accelerated flower wilting, abnormal growth and other problems. Results from two new research reports by AFE-funded researchers Michelle Jones, Ph.D., and Nichole Edelman of The Ohio State University can help with ethylene concerns.

“Ethylene can be very destructive in both production and post-production environments,” Jones said. “Research aimed at understanding plant responses to ethylene and how to prevent damage will benefit producers, wholesalers, shippers, retailers and consumers.”

Tomato Epinasty Ethylene

Epinasty in tomato ‘Tumbler’ treated with different concentrations of ethylene for 24 hours.

Use of Indicator Plants to Identify Ethylene Contamination in the Production Greenhouse, Report #457
An ideal indicator plant is one that is very sensitive to ethylene, allowing for quick observation of symptoms of damage. Using indicator plants in the greenhouse is a simple and inexpensive way to prevent costly product loss due to ethylene damage.

The most common source of ethylene damage in the greenhouse is malfunctioning heating units, so place indicator plants near heaters or other equipment to quickly observe damage.

After testing 40 plants, the results confirm tomatoes are the best plants to use as indicator plants, with common cultivars like ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Better Boy’ being among the best. Young plants make better indicator plants than mature plants, so replace aging indicator plants with younger plants before they flower.

“Overall, preventing ethylene damage during production results in a better quality crop,” Jones said. “Plants will have better shipping tolerance and better consumer performance. This has an impact on all aspects of the floriculture marketing chain.”

Ethylene Research Chart

View the full chart comparing ethylene sensitivity levels of seedlings and mature plants by accessing the research report.

Evaluating the Use of the Seedling Hypocotyl Elongation Assay to Predict Mature Plant Ethylene Sensitivity, Report #458
When seedlings are exposed to ethylene, they are characterized by an abnormal hypocotyl (the stem of a germinating seedling below the seed leaves and above the root), which becomes thicker and exhibits reduced elongation.

The elongation response can help determine if a plant at the seedling stage is sensitive to ethylene, but it is not clear whether this consistently predicts mature plant ethylene sensitivity. This research examines the elongation response in 18 bedding plant species at the seedling stage to test for ethylene sensitivity.

“Knowing the ethylene sensitivity of different crops will allow for the selection of varieties with reduced sensitivity, and they are less likely to be damaged by ethylene during storing, shipping and retailing,” Jones said.

View the full research report for a handy reference chart comparing sensitivity levels of seedlings and mature plants, as well as more than 150 additional free research reports on this website.