Chitosan, a Biopolymer With Triple Action on Postharvest Decay of Fruit and Vegetables: Eliciting, Antimicrobial and Film-Forming Properties.

Research paper by Gianfranco G Romanazzi, Erica E Feliziani, Dharini D Sivakumar

Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: Frontiers in microbiology


Chitosan is a natural biopolymer from crab shells that is known for its biocompatibility, biodegradability, and bioactivity. In human medicine, chitosan is used as a stabilizer for active ingredients in tablets, and is popular in slimming diets. Due to its low toxicity, it was the first basic substance approved by the European Union for plant protection (Reg. EU 2014/563), for both organic agriculture and integrated pest management. When applied to plants, chitosan shows triple activity: (i) elicitation of host defenses; (ii) antimicrobial activity; and (iii) film formation on the treated surface. The eliciting activity of chitosan has been studied since the 1990's, which started with monitoring of enzyme activities linked to defense mechanisms (e.g., chitinase, β-1,3 glucanase, phenylalanine ammonia-lyase) in different fruit (e.g., strawberry, other berries, citrus fruit, table grapes). This continued with investigations with qRT-PCR (Quantitative Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction), and more recently, with RNA-Seq. The antimicrobial activity of chitosan against a wide range of plant pathogens has been confirmed through many and studies. Once applied to a plant surface (e.g., dipping, spraying), chitosan forms an edible coating, the properties of which (e.g., thickness, viscosity, gas and water permeability) depend on the acid in which it is dissolved. Based on data in literature, we propose that overall, the eliciting represents 30 to 40% of the chitosan activity, its antimicrobial activity 35 to 45%, and its film-forming activity 20 to 30%, in terms of its effectiveness in the control of postharvest decay of fresh fruit. As well as being used alone, chitosan can be applied together with many other alternatives to synthetic fungicides, to boost its eliciting, antimicrobial and film-forming properties, with additive, and at times synergistic, interactions. Several commercial chitosan formulations are available as biopesticides, with their effectiveness due to the integrated combination of these three mechanisms of action of chitosan.