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J Exp Bot. 2011 Jun;62(10):3403-20. doi: 10.1093/jxb/err013. Epub 2011 Feb 28.

Cold affects the transcription of fatty acid desaturases and oil quality in the fruit of Olea europaea L. genotypes with different cold hardiness.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Biologia Ambientale, Sapienza Università di Roma, Rome, Italy.


The olive tree lacks dormancy and is low temperature sensitive, with differences in cold tolerance and oil quality among genotypes. The oil is produced in the drupe, and the unsaturated fatty acids contribute to its quality. The aim of the present research was to investigate the relationship among development, cold response, expression of fatty acid desaturase (FAD) genes, and unsaturated fatty acid composition in drupes belonging to genotypes differing in leaf cold tolerance, but producing good oil (i.e. the non-hardy Moraiolo, the semi-hardy Frantoio, and the hardy Canino). In all genotypes, cold sensitivity, evaluated by cold-induced transient increases in cytosolic calcium, was high in the epi-mesocarp cells before oil body formation, and decreased during oil biogenesis. However, genotype-dependent differences in cold sensitivity appeared at the end of oil production. Genotype-dependent differences in FAD2.1, FAD2.2, FAD6, and FAD7 expression levels occurred in the epi-mesocarp cells during the oleogenic period. However, FAD2.1 and FAD7 were always the highest in the first part of this period. FAD2.2 and FAD7 increased after cold applications during oleogenesis, independently of the genotype. Unsaturated fatty acids increased in the drupes of the non-hardy genotype, but not in those of the hardy one, after cold exposure at the time of the highest FAD transcription. The results show a direct relationship between FAD expression and lipid desaturation in the drupes of the cold-sensitive genotype, and an inverse relationship in those of the cold-resistant genotype, suggesting that drupe cold acclimation requires a fine FAD post-transcriptional regulation. Hypotheses relating FAD desaturation to storage and membrane lipids, and genotype cold hardiness are discussed.

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