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Why broccoli withers after harvest


Everybody knows and regrets that many fruits and vegetables begin to spoil after harvest, but why do they?

A research team at the University of Florida tackled this subject regarding broccoli, using genomics and gene editing.

After harvest, broccoli bunches rapidly wither, turn yellow, and die.

Headshot of Richard Smoley

The team, led by Tie Liu, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences at the university, used RNA sequencing to compare the genes activated during broccoli maturing with those activated after harvest.

The researchers found that harvest activates certain stress-related genes, including some that are related to ethylene, which causes ripening. Other genes activated postharvest were related to loss of water and nutrients from the plant.

“Harvest causes disruption of supply of water, hormones, nutrients, and energy, leads to imbalance of source-to-sink transition, and triggers stress-induced senescence,” noted the team in their article about the research, to be published in the Postharvest Biology and Technology journal later this year.

“Understanding the genetic variants that lead to varied postharvest traits may allow breeders to generate new broccoli varieties with increased shelf life and nutritional properties,” the researchers concluded. 

“With these results, we feel we’ve identified targets for reducing the negative effects of harvesting on broccoli,” Liu said. “The results should apply immediately to numerous broccoli relatives like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and bok choy. It’s likely that they will also apply to many other fruits and vegetables as well, hopefully resulting in produce that remains fresher and more appealing, as well as healthier, once it gets to consumers’ homes.”


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 13 books.