In nature, the hormone ethylene triggers physiological processes in plants including flower abscission, fruit ripening and senescence. The effective management of ethylene production and its action lead to extension of storage life and maintenance of quality in horticultural fresh produce.

Professor Zora Singh (Department of Environment and Agriculture) and Dr Alan Payne (Department of Chemistry) at Curtin University have discovered a new class of ethylene antagonist which delays ripening, reduces flower drop, and dramatically reduce post-harvest losses in horticultural produce. These compounds can be applied by a range of methods such as fumigation, spray and waxing, making them very versatile and user-friendly. The compounds are easy to handle, transport and are stable solids at room temperature and they are water soluble.

The ethylene blockers innovation is a result of an eight year collaborative research project led by Prof Singh and Dr Payne. Prof Singh has more than 20 years of experience in developing post-harvest technologies to solve various problems faced by Australian horticulture industry and is a Fellow of the Horticultural Society in India. Dr Payne is a synthetic organic chemist who has worked with several start-up pharmaceutical companies and in academia.

The team at Curtin set out to enhance economic resilience and conserve valuable natural resources in the horticulture industry by reducing postharvest losses in a wide range of floriculture, fruit and vegetable crops.  The postharvest losses are estimated up to 44% of total fresh horticultural produce, which costs the Australian economy in excess of $2.4 billion a year. The team’s long term aims are to reduce postharvest losses and to replace airfreight with sea freight for transporting horticultural produce to distant international markets from Western Australia, which would enable horticulture exporters to transport large amounts, with substantially reduced costs both in dollar terms and impact on the environment. 

This new innovation is set to make fruit, vegetables and even flowers keep fresh longer, from the farm, during transport, grocery store to the fridge.

The technology developed by Prof Singh’s group have been well adopted by different stakeholders involved in the production, postharvest handling and supply chain management of fresh horticultural produce to maximise economic returns of Western Australian horticulture industry.