By Tim Wall
Long before there were “life hacks,” there was folk wisdom. One classic kitchen tip was to put a ripe apple in a paper bag with a green banana to speed the banana’s ripening. Chemically, ethylene gas released by the ripe apple caused the banana to become yellow and delicious. A similar chemical reaction causes “one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch,” because a single piece of ripe fruit speeds up the ripening and subsequent rotting of its neighbors.
However, until now, the exact genetic mechanism behind this kitchen chemistry had been a mystery.
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Recent research discovered that etylene gas acts as a hormone to activate a particular gene in plants’ DNA, known as Ethylene Insensitive3 (EIN3). Ethylene’s effect on that gene then ripples out and causes a multitude of other chemical reactions in fruits and many other plants. The study was published online in eLife.