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Functional characterization of a tomato COBRA-like gene functioning in fruit development and ripening

Ying Cao15, Xiaofeng Tang1, Jim Giovannoni3, Fangming Xiao4 and Yongsheng Liu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Bio-resource and Eco-environment, College of Life Science, State Key Laboratory of Hydraulics and Mountain River Engineering, Sichuan University, Chengdu, 610064, China

2 School of Biotechnology and food Engineering, Hefei University of Technology, Hefei, 230009, China

3 US Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service, Robert Holly Center and Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA

4 Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 83844-2339, USA

5 School of Life Science and Engineering, Southwest University of Science and Technology, Mianyang, 621010, China

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BMC Plant Biology 2012, 12:211  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-211

Published: 10 November 2012



Extensive studies have demonstrated that the COBRA gene is critical for biosynthesis of cell wall constituents comprising structural tissues of roots, stalks, leaves and other vegetative organs, however, its role in fruit development and ripening remains largely unknown.


We identified a tomato gene (SlCOBRA-like) homologous to Arabidopsis COBRA, and determined its role in fleshy fruit biology. The SlCOBRA-like gene is highly expressed in vegetative organs and in early fruit development, but its expression in fruit declines dramatically during ripening stages, implying a primary role in early fruit development. Fruit-specific suppression of SlCOBRA-like resulted in impaired cell wall integrity and up-regulation of genes encoding proteins involved in cell wall degradation during early fruit development. In contrast, fruit-specific overexpression of SlCOBRA-like resulted in increased wall thickness of fruit epidermal cells, more collenchymatous cells beneath the epidermis, elevated levels of cellulose and reduced pectin solubilization in the pericarp cells of red ripe fruits. Moreover, transgenic tomato fruits overexpressing SlCOBRA-like exhibited desirable early development phenotypes including enhanced firmness and a prolonged shelf life.


Our results suggest that SlCOBRA-like plays an important role in fruit cell wall architecture and provides a potential genetic tool for extending the shelf life of tomato and potentially additional fruits.