USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently awarded two UF horticulture scientists $500,000 to investigate how light affects the quality of strawberries and tomatoes after harvest.
After plants have been harvested, they are still living plant tissues, and therefore susceptible to cellular alterations that can cause changes in flavor, texture and overall quality. Factors like the temperature and humidity of the post-harvest environment can have a significant impact on the fruits shelf-life. Because of this, an estimated 50 percent of harvested produce goes to waste.
Kevin Folta, a horticultural sciences professor, and Thomas Colquhoun, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture, will examine how the post-harvest quality of strawberries and tomatoes can be improved exposure to specific light wavelengths.
Light plays a critical role in plant growth and development, and previous studies show that light sensors for specific colors can lead to changes in the plant’s molecular and biological processes. Exposure to different colors can affect aspects of a plant’s ripening and softening, as well as adding flavor, aroma and nutrients. Folta and Colquhoun’s experiments will attempt to identify the light conditions that will reprogram a fruit’s metabolism and breakdown and increase quality for consumers.
This research could create a simple, low-cost way for farmers and retailers to preserve the quality of their product and increase consumption of healthy food around the world.
“Their use in the developing world could help ensure that more nutrient-dense foods get to people that need them,” Folta said. “And it is exciting that a cheap, durable and solar-powered solution could bring such benefits.”