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Post-harvest quality is of major importance in the fruit sector. Fruits often travel long distances, or are stored for long periods of time to meet customer demands all year round. The plant hormone ethylene can profoundly affect the quality of harvested fruits as it is the key regulator of the ripening process for many types of fruit. To counteract the action of ethylene, harvested fruits can be treated with 1-MCP, to prevent or delay ripening. This helps to maintain fruit quality after harvest.

However, in some cases exposure of 1-MCP can lead to irreversible inhibition of the ripening process. This could result in immature fruit that does not ripen at all. Therefore, the use of 1-MCP is not always the best option and in some cases, like in organic production, is even prohibited. NSure, a biotech company based in Wageningen (the Netherlands), has developed the FreshNSure test to determine whether a batch of apples or pears has been effectively treated with 1-MCP.

A shift in gene expression is one of the first responses to environmental changes, often long before any physical change to the fruit becomes visible. Application of 1-MCP affects the activity of genes related to ripening. This effect can be observed in fruits after several periods of storage, and during shelf life (Figure 1). Using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), NSure analysed the activity of all genes, in a wide range of apple and pear varieties, in response to the application of 1-MCP. Subsequently, genes that respond consistently were selected as indicator genes. They form the backbone of the FreshNSure test. The selected genes were validated using treated and untreated samples from different locations around the world, including different storage conditions, to define the ideal set of genes for the test. Based on the activity of the selected set of genes, an index value is calculated. This value makes it possible to distinguish between untreated batches and batches that have been treated with 1-MCP.


 
Figure 1. Activity level of a single gene in Granny Smith apples in 1-MCP treated (solid lines) and untreated (dashed lines) batches after different periods of storage at 0 oC, including several moments of shelf life.

At the moment, FreshNSure is available for apples and pears. One of the advantages of the sophisticated FreshNSure technology is its user-friendly sampling method (Figure 2). The practical sampling kit includes all the tools needed to prepare a sample. All it takes is to apply a few drops of juice to the sampling card. Test results are returned within 48 hours after arrival of the sample(s) at the laboratory and will be categorised as ‘not treated’ or ‘treated’. 
FreshNSure Pear was developed for the Abate Fetel variety. It can be used anytime between 4 and 20 weeks after the start of storage/treatment. Pear samples (15 pears) should be taken directly from stored batches. FreshNSure Apple can be used for the varieties Gala, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, Elstar, Jonagold, Pink Lady and their respective clones. The effect of treatment is measurable after 3 to 9 months of storage. Samples (15 apples) must be taken directly from storage or within 14 days of shelf life. 

 
Figure 2. FreshNSure’s user-friendly sampling methods. Small pieces of sliced fruit are placed in a sampling bag with a provided liquid. The fruit pieces need to be smashed first. A small volume of juice is then taken and dropped onto a so-called FTA card. The card is sent to the laboratory, either at NSure or at one of its collaborators. Results are available within 48 hours.

A new commercial season is approaching for FreshNSure in the Northern hemisphere, and NSure has set up collaborations with several distributors and laboratories in Europe to enable local service and guarantee the shortest possible turnaround times.

The FreshNSure test will determine whether a fruit batch has been effectively treated with 1-MCP or not. Besides informing costumers about the fruits they consume, the test also offers a completely new spectrum of possibilities for fruit storage management. It can be used, for example, as a support tool for decisions about applications or destinations for specific batches. Altogether, the FreshNSure test is a promising tool to optimise post-harvest fruit storage in order to support market choices and expand export range. NSure is open to developing new opportunities for FreshNSure, such as increasing the time window of detection, or expanding the test to other fruit types. If you are interested in the FreshNSure test or the possibilities it can offer for your business or varieties, please feel free to contact us.