Journal of Experimental Botany

The formation of brown protective skin in onion bulbs can be induced by rapid post-harvest heat treatment. Onions that are peeled to different depths and are exposed to heat stress show that only the outer scales form the dry brown skin, whereas the inner scales maintain high water content and do not change color. Our study demonstrates that browning of the outer scale during heat treatment is due to an enzymatic process that is associated with high levels of oxidation components, such as peroxidase and quercetin glucoside. De novo transcriptome analysis revealed differential molecular responses of the outer and inner scales to heat stress. Genes involved in lipid metabolism, oxidation pathways, and cell-wall modification were highly expressed in the outer scale during heating. Defense response-related genes such as those encoding heat-shock proteins, antioxidative stress defense, or production of osmoprotectant metabolites were mostly induced in the inner scale in response to heat exposure. These transcriptomic data led to a conceptual model that suggests sequential processes for the development of browning and desiccation of the outer scale versus processes associated with defense response and heat tolerance in the inner scales. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology.

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Differential response to heat stress in outer and inner onion bulb scales
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Differential response to heat stress in outer and inner onion bulb scales

The formation of brown protective skin in onion bulbs can be induced by rapid post-harvest heat treatment. Onions that are peeled to different depths and are exposed to heat stress show that only the outer scales form the dry brown skin, whereas the inner scales maintain high water content and do not change color. Our study demonstrates that browning of the outer scale during heat treatment is due to an enzymatic process that is associated with high levels of oxidation components, such as peroxidase and quercetin glucoside. De novo transcriptome analysis revealed differential molecular responses of the outer and inner scales to heat stress. Genes involved in lipid metabolism, oxidation pathways, and cell-wall modification were highly expressed in the outer scale during heating. Defense response-related genes such as those encoding heat-shock proteins, antioxidative stress defense, or production of osmoprotectant metabolites were mostly induced in the inner scale in response to heat exposure. These transcriptomic data led to a conceptual model that suggests sequential processes for the development of browning and desiccation of the outer scale versus processes associated with defense response and heat tolerance in the inner scales. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology.

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