Enhancement of economical value of nopal and its fruits through biotechnology
Keywords:Prickly pear, Opuntia, fruit ripening, genes, nutraceuticals
In Mexico, the nopal (Opuntia spp.) for human consumption as vegetable and for production of prickly pear fruits is cultivated in several thousands of hectares. This crop has been associated to our culture since the pre-Hispanic age and its demand has increased in the last years due to its remarkable nutraceutical potential and to the content of some key nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin C, among others. Nopal is a crop with a high capacity of adaptation to different environmental conditions, mainly arid and semiarid. It represents a very good alternative for the agriculture in these areas, where the soils are poor or are becoming poor and result in very low yield of traditional cultivars. This crop is increasing its economical value in exportations and is becoming a very important alternative for the people who live in the production areas. However, the plant still has undesirable characteristics such as mucilage and spines, pathogen sensitivity, and high number of seeds in its fruits with a poor postharvest life that limits the production and consumer acceptance. We herewith review the efforts that have been done in order to improve the nopal characteristics and its fruit through biotechnology.