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Improvement of natural resistance in fruit

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Botrytis Cinerea - friend or foe?

A highly sensitive detection system is helping scientists aid farmers in protecting their tomatoes against Botrytis cinerea.

Health

The FRUTA FRESCA project is proof that science can work wonders. A well-balanced consortium of European research organisations gathered to tackle the issue of food quality, namely that of tomatoes. The challenge is to maintain quality once the tomato has been harvested and to avoid spoilage before reaching the consumer's table. Botrytis cinerea is a phytogenic fungus. It is highly sought after by grape growers since it aids in the production of dessert wines, yet it poses a considerable threat to tomato health. The first step was to accurately and quickly detect the presence of Botrytis cinerea before the infection becomes visible. This was made possible by the application of a photoacoustic detection system based on a line-tuneable laser. Further enhancement with proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometry allows for detection of very low concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from the tomatoes. Continuous measurements are coordinated by automated software. Experiments revealed that ethylene was the chief VOC indicator for early infection with Botrytis cinerea. The unique detection system was also instrumental in the next phase of the project. It brought to light the fact that tomatoes produce acetaldehyde as part of their natural defences against Botrytis cinerea. This knowledge was then applied to develop new strains of tomato plants with built-in resistance to the disease. Delays in the onset of Botrytis cinerea were also achieved through other techniques, such as oxygen-free storage and VOC fumigation. This research brings European agriculture to the forefront. The consortium is looking to capitalise on the results of the project. FRUTA FRESCA will help put high quality tomatoes on the dinner table all year round.

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