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Measuring a melon's maturity while it's on the vine.

A gentle squeeze may help tell you if a melon's ready to eat. But it's still hard to say whether a slice will be tender and succulent or crunchy and bland.

To help ensure that more melons are sweet and juicy by the time they reach your table, Krista C. Shellie is studying the mysteries of melon ripening. But instead of a gentle squeeze, she gives fruit a jab with a long, thin needle

Shellie, an ARS plant physiologist in Weslaco, Texas, uses a hypodermic needle to draw out gases from within the fruit's seed cavity - as the melon ripens on the vines.

"We want to see how gases associated with ripening - ethylene and carbon dioxide - change as the melons mature," explains Shellie, who is collaborating with Mikal E. Saltveit, a plant physiologist at the University of California at Davis.

"Currently, our understanding of melon ripening is based on changes in carbon dioxide and ethylene measured in harvested melons," says Shellie. This new study is the first to repeatedly sample the gases inside a still - growing melon.

Using a cylinder, metal cork borer, she pokes small plugs out of young cantaloupes and honeydews, replacing them with nipple - shaped rubber stoppers. These sampling ports allow her to extract gasses every other day without contaminating the fruit or disrupting its normal development.

In preliminary greenhouse studies, honeydrew melons attached to the vine did not show the expected sharp rise in carbon dioxide concentration common in many ripening fruits. That rise - a direct result of increased respiration by the fruit - is known as a climacteric response

"Instead, we saw a gradual rise in ethylene and a gradual decline in carbon dioxide as the melons matured." says Shellie. But she cautioned that further test currently underway on melons growing outdoors are needed to confirm those initial results.

Shellie says the new technique could come in handy for scientist trying to measure the impact of a new technologies aimed at improving melon ripening and storage.

"For instance," says Shellie, "we could use our repeat sampling technique to see how covering melons with shrinkwrap plastic, waxes, or edible films affects the fruit's respiration during storage." ARS researcher in Florida, Texas, and California have worked on different coatings designed to prolong the shelf line of various fruits.

"Also," she notes, "a clearer understanding of the ripening phenomenon could guide efforts to genetically engineer melons that would ripen on demand."
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Title Annotation:melon ripening research
Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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