Metabolomics of dates (Phoenix dactylifera) reveals a highly dynamic ripening process accounting for major variation in fruit composition

Ilhame Diboun, Sweety Mathew, Maryam Al-Rayyashi, Mohamed Elrayess, Maria Torres, Anna Halama, Michaël Méret, Robert P. Mohney, Edward D. Karoly, Joel Malek, Karsten Suhre

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Dates are tropical fruits with appreciable nutritional value. Previous attempts at global metabolic characterization of the date metabolome were constrained by small sample size and limited geographical sampling. In this study, two independent large cohorts of mature dates exhibiting substantial diversity in origin, varieties and fruit processing conditions were measured by metabolomics techniques in order to identify major determinants of the fruit metabolome. Results: Multivariate analysis revealed a first principal component (PC1) significantly associated with the dates' countries of production. The availability of a smaller dataset featuring immature dates from different development stages served to build a model of the ripening process in dates, which helped reveal a strong ripening signature in PC1. Analysis revealed enrichment in the dry type of dates amongst fruits with early ripening profiles at one end of PC1 as oppose to an overrepresentation of the soft type of dates with late ripening profiles at the other end of PC1. Dry dates are typical to the North African region whilst soft dates are more popular in the Gulf region, which partly explains the observed association between PC1 and geography. Analysis of the loading values, expressing metabolite correlation levels with PC1, revealed enrichment patterns of a comprehensive range of metabolite classes along PC1. Three distinct metabolic phases corresponding to known stages of date ripening were observed: An early phase enriched in regulatory hormones, amines and polyamines, energy production, tannins, sucrose and anti-oxidant activity, a second phase with on-going phenylpropanoid secondary metabolism, gene expression and phospholipid metabolism and a late phase with marked sugar dehydration activity and degradation reactions leading to increased volatile synthesis. Conclusions: These data indicate the importance of date ripening as a main driver of variation in the date metabolome responsible for their diverse nutritional and economical values. The biochemistry of the ripening process in dates is consistent with other fruits but natural dryness may prevent degenerative senescence in dates following ripening. Based on the finding that mature dates present varying extents of ripening, our survey of the date metabolome essentially revealed snapshots of interchanging metabolic states during ripening empowering an in-depth characterization of underlying biology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number291
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2015



  • Date fruit
  • Date palm
  • Dry dates varieties
  • Metabolomics
  • Multivariate
  • OPLS
  • PCA
  • Ripening
  • Soft dates varieties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science

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