Studies have found that changing, or selecting for changes, in the activity of a single family of genetic controls, called MYB transcription factors, enhances key traits of fruits and vegetables such as appearance, flavour, texture and nutritional content. For example, in many fruiting plants these controls maintain colour compounds, which have been associated with health benefits for humans, in the skin of the fruit and low concentrations in the large volume of flesh. By changing or selecting for changes in the activity of these transcription factors, the plant could produce more of these healthy compounds throughout the fruit.
In a cover story titled “MYBs drive novel consumer traits in fruits in vegetables” published in the August 2018 issue of academic journal Trends in Plant Science, Plant & Food Research scientists Professor Andrew Allan and Dr Richard Espley review plant MYB transcription factors that are associated with the development, hormone signalling, metabolite biosynthesis and pigmentation of plants.
“Studies have shown that pigments such as anthocyanins and carotenoids are thought to offer health and dietary benefits. Changes in key MYB transcription factors could turn the colourless flesh of certain fruits into one with colour,” Professor Allan says. “It could significantly increase the content of pigments per fruit serving, resulting in a possible step change in health benefits.”
Besides colour, MYBs are also involved in taste and flavour via aroma, astringency and piquancy, as well as affecting the texture of the flesh and hair formation on the skin.
Understanding the regulation of MYB transcription factors facilitates the breeding and production of completely new categories of fruits and vegetables with desirable consumer traits. These added potential health benefits, more attractive appearance, better flavour, better texture, better storage and more convenience will encourage the purchase and consumption of plant products rather than heavily-processed synthetic food, for people looking for a longer, healthier life whilst benefiting the environment.