Nature of Ethylene
Ethylene, unlike the rest of the plant hormone compounds is a gaseous hormone. Like abscisic acid, it is the only member of its class. Of all the known plant growth substance, ethylene has the simplest structure. It is produced in all higher plants and is usually associated with fruit ripening and the tripple response (Arteca, 1996; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).
History of Discovery in Plants
Ethylene has been used in practice since the ancient Egyptians, who would gas figs in order to stimulate ripening. The ancient Chinese would burn incense in closed rooms to enhance the ripening of pears. It was in 1864, that leaks of gas from street lights showed stunting of growth, twisting of plants, and abnormal thickening of stems (the triple response)(Arteca, 1996; Salisbury and Ross, 1992). In 1901, a russian scientist named Dimitry Neljubow showed that the active component was ethylene (Neljubow, 1901). Doubt discovered that ethylene stimulated abscission in 1917 (Doubt, 1917). It wasn't until 1934 that Gane reported that plants synthesize ethylene (Gane, 1934). In 1935, Crocker proposed that ethylene was the plant hormone responsible for fruit ripening as well as inhibition of vegetative tissues (Crocker, 1935). Ethylene is now known to have many other functions as well.
Biosynthesis and Metabolism
Ethylene is produced in all higher plants and is produced from methionine in essentially all tissues. Production of ethylene varies with the type of tissue, the plant species, and also the stage of development. The mechanism by which ethylene is produced from methionine is a 3 step process (McKeon et al., 1995; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).
ATP is an essential component in the synthesis of ethylene from methionine. ATP and water are added to methionine resulting in loss of the three phosphates and S-adenosyl methionine.
- 1-amino-cyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid synthase (ACC-synthase) facilitates the production of ACC from SAM.
- Oxygen is then needed in order ro oxidize ACC and produce ethylene. This reaction is catalyzed by an oxidative enzyme called ethylene forming enzyme.
The control of ethylene production has received considerable study. Study of ethylene has focused around the synthesis promoting effects of auxin, wounding, and drought as well as aspects of fruit-ripening. ACC synthase is the rate limiting step for ethylene production and it is this enzyme that is manipulated in biotechnology to delay fruit ripening in the "flavor saver" tomatoes (Klee and Lanahan, 1995).
Functions of Ethylene
Ethylene is known to affect the following plant processes (Davies, 1995; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992):
- Stimulates the release of dormancy.
- Stimulates shoot and root growth and differentiation (triple response)
- May have a role in adventitious root formation.
- Stimulates leaf and fruit abscission.
- Stimulates Bromiliad flower induction.
- Induction of femaleness in dioecious flowers.
- Stimulates flower opening.
- Stimulates flower and leaf senescence.
- Stimulates fruit ripening.