It is proposed that post-harvest longevity and appearance of salad crops is closely linked to pre-harvest leaf morphology (cell and leaf size) and biophysical structure (leaf strength). Transgenic lettuce plants (Lactuca sativa cv. Valeria) were produced in which the production of the cell wall-modifying enzyme xyloglucan endotransglucosylase/hydrolase (XTH) was down-regulated by antisense inhibition. <br/><br/>Independently transformed lines were shown to have multiple members of the LsXTH gene family down-regulated in mature leaves of 6-week-old plants and during the course of shelf life. Consequently, xyloglucan endotransglucosylase (XET) enzyme activity and action were down-regulated in the cell walls of these leaves and it was established that leaf area and fresh weight were decreased while leaf strength was increased in the transgenic lines. Membrane permeability was reduced towards the end of shelf life in the transgenic lines relative to the controls and bacteria were evident inside the leaves of control plants only. Most importantly, an extended shelf-life of transgenic lines was observed relative to the non-transgenic control plants. These data illustrate the potential for engineering cell wall traits for improving quality and longevity of salad crops using either genetic modification directly, or by using markers associated with XTH genes to inform a commercial breeding programme
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