Biomechanics of isolated tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruit cuticles: the role of the cutin matrix and polysaccharides

J Exp Bot. 2007;58(14):3875-83. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erm233. Epub 2007 Nov 1.


The mechanical characteristics of the cuticular membrane (CM), a complex composite biopolymer basically composed of a cutin matrix, waxes, and hydrolysable polysaccharides, have been described previously. The biomechanical behaviour and quantitative contribution of cutin and polysaccharides have been investigated here using as experimental material mature green and red ripe tomato fruits. Treatment of isolated CM with anhydrous hydrogen fluoride in pyridine allowed the selective elimination of polysaccharides attached to or incrusted into the cutin matrix. Cutin samples showed a drastic decrease in elastic modulus and stiffness (up to 92%) compared with CM, which clearly indicates that polysaccharides incorporated into the cutin matrix are responsible for the elastic modulus, stiffness, and the linear elastic behaviour of the whole cuticle. Reciprocally, the viscoelastic behaviour of CM (low elastic modulus and high strain values) can be assigned to the cutin. These results applied both to mature green and red ripe CM. Cutin elastic modulus, independently of the degree of temperature and hydration, was always significantly higher for the ripe than for the green samples while strain was lower; the amount of phenolics in the cutin network are the main candidates to explain the increased rigidity from mature green to red ripe cutin. The polysaccharide families isolated from CM were pectin, hemicellulose, and cellulose, the main polymers associated with the plant cell wall. The three types of polysaccharides were present in similar amounts in CM from mature green and red ripe tomatoes. Physical techniques such as X-ray diffraction and Raman spectroscopy indicated that the polysaccharide fibres were mainly randomly oriented. A tomato fruit CM scenario at the supramolecular level that could explain the observed CM biomechanical properties is presented and discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Fruit / physiology*
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / physiology*
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology*
  • Polysaccharides / physiology*


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Polysaccharides
  • cutin