Now we know
A team of researchers, including two from the University of California, Riverside, has identified the genes responsible for the hallmark sour taste of many citrus fruits. Published Tuesday, Feb. 25 in Nature Communications, the research could help plant breeders develop new, sweeter varieties.
Modern citrus varieties have been bred over thousands of years to generate a broad palette of sour and sweet-tasting fruits. Analyses of their pulp reveals that a single chemical element--hydrogen--is largely responsible for the difference between sour and sweet-tasting varieties, which usually have similar sugar content. The pulp from sour fruits contains more hydrogen ions, giving it a lower pH and a tangy taste that is recognized by acid-sensitive cells in our taste buds. Conversely, pulp from sweeter varieties contains fewer hydrogen ions and tastes less acidic.
Ronald Koes and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands set out to untangle how some citrus varieties wind up with more acidic juice than others, a process that until now has remained a mystery. Their interest stemmed from a previous study showing that higher acidity in purple petunia flowers resulted in more petal pigmentation.
Intrigued by the Faris variety of lemon tree, which produces branches bearing both sweet and sour fruits, and white and purple-tinged flowers, Koes' team turned to UCR plant scientists Mikeal Roose and Claire Federici. Using the university's vast Citrus Variety Collection, which preserves over 1,000 living citrus and related fruit varieties, Roose and Federici selected the Faris lemon and 20 other citrus fruits ranging from wincingly sour to sugary sweet for Koes' team to analyze.
By studying the expression of genes related to those controlling acidity in petunias, Koes' team identified two citrus genes, CitPH1 and CitPH5, that are highly expressed in sour varieties and weakly expressed in sweet-tasting varieties. The CitPH1 and CitPH5 genes encode transporter proteins that pump hydrogen ions into the vacuole, a large storage compartment inside juice cells, thus increasing their overall acidity.
Next, the team turned its attention to genes that control the levels of CitPH1 and CitPH5 in juice cells. While down-regulation of CitPH1 and CitPH5 in sweeter tasting varieties arose multiple times independently in different varieties, the researchers found that mutations in genes for a handful of transcription factors (proteins that help turn specific genes on and off) were responsible for reduced expression of CitPH1 and CitPH5, and therefore a sweeter taste.
Roose, a professor of genetics in UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, said the findings could help breeders develop better-tasting citrus fruits. However, he said breeding varieties with severe mutations in the transcription factors such as those studied in the "acidless" citrus would be "overkill," producing sugary citrus fruits with none of their popular acidic kick. Instead, plant scientists should look to target mutations that have a less dramatic effect on the production and activity of transporter proteins.
"By understanding the mechanism acidification of fruit cells, we can now look for related genes that might reduce the expression of CitPH1 and CitPH5 just enough to engineer or select for new, sweeter varieties," Roose said.
Hyperacidification of Citrus fruits by a vacuolar
proton-pumping P-ATPase complex
Nature Communicationsvolume 10, Article number: 744 (2019)
At the recent HLB Conference in Florida a paper was given that reinforces the need for appropriate soil and water pH to maximize root density and tree health. The industry there is dominated by a range of rootstocks and by Valencia-like varieties. Jim Graham and colleagues have shown that pH contributes to orchard health in their HLB situation. This should be a reminder for California growers for general tree health. Florida soils tend to be more coarse than soils found in many California orchards. It's much harder to change soil pH with acidified irrigation water with heavier textured soils.
4.b.1 Soil and water acidification sustain root density of huanglongbing-infected trees in Florida
Jim GRAHAM, Kayla GERBERICH, Diane BRIGHT, Evan JOHNSON
University of Florida, Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, Florida, USA
Abstract: Early symptoms of HLB include fibrous root loss and leaf blotchy mottle, followed by premature fruit and leaf drop, and yield decline. As a consequence of initial bacterial infection of fibrous roots, a 30-50% reduction in fibrous root density and elevated soil Phytophthora populations were detected in field surveys. Continued sampling of Hamlin and Valencia orange trees on Swingle citrumelo rootstock in different stages of HLB decline revealed that root loss occurs in two stages. The second phase of root loss (70-80%) begins at the early stage of tree canopy thinning resulting from leaf drop and branch dieback. A more extensive survey of HLB-affected groves indicated that greater decline in fibrous root health and expression of HLB symptoms is observed where irrigation water is high in bicarbonates (> 100 ppm) and/or soil pH > 6.5. HLB symptom expression of trees on different rootstocks follows the known intolerance to bicarbonate (Swingle citrumelo > Carrizo citrange > sour orange > Cleopatra mandarin). Acidification of irrigation water in central ridge and south central flatwoods Valencia orange groves on Swingle citrumelo rootstock for three seasons has maintained soil pH below 6.5 on the flatwoods and 6.0 on ridge. Over the last three seasons of survey, root density as an index of root heath has been sustained. Phytophthora populations remain below the damaging level in ridge groves and in flatwoods increase to damaging levels coincident with the fall root flush but drop back to non-damaging levels for remainder of the season. Compared to the 2013-14 season, yields in the ridge blocks have increased up to 4% and on the flatwoods have increased up to 22%.Growers using acidification treatments with sulfuric and/or N-phuric acid for the last 3 seasons report an average cost of $60 per acre. This cost will analyzed in relation to yield response to provide a cost benefit of acidification
Non-Technical Summary: Managements have been implemented to reduce soil, nutrient and water stress, and Phytophthora root rot. They include frequent irrigation cycles, fertigation and acidification of irrigation water and soil to reduce rhizosphere pH, and fungicides. Root density of trees under these practices fluctuates seasonally and annually but has not declined over the past 3 years. Trees managed with soil acidification and fertigation have steadily recovered in health and yield.
Calcareous soils have often more than 15% CaCO3 in the soil that may occur in various forms (powdery, nodules, crusts etc…). They are relatively widespread in the drier areas of the earth. California is notable for its young soils, that is, soils that have a relatively high level of nutrients because low rainfall means that natural productivity has not been leached out. The potential productivity of calcareous soils is high where adequate water and nutrients can be supplied. Water is the most limiting input to making California soils productive.
The high pH associated with these soils, though, is not the level of calcium present. It is the carbonate in the soil or the bicarbonate associated with the waters found in those soils which controls the pH. The high pH then controls the availability of iron, zinc, manganese and copper. These nutrients need to be added as foliars or soil applied, or better yet, the soil pH needs to be dropped to around 7 to make these nutrients available.
Recently someone asked if replacing the calcium with potassium would change the pH. No, it won't. The carbonate needs to be removed. Calling it a calcareous soil confuses people about what caused the high pH. The carbonate or bicarbonate needs to be removed with acidification, it turning it into CO2 gas. This is done with urea sulfuric acid or sulfuric or sulfurous acid. There are actually magnesium dominated soils in the San Luis Obispo area that have high pHs due to carbonates. They are carbonateceous.