Microscale modeling of coupled water transport and mechanical deformation of fruit tissue during dehydration

Solomon Workneh Fanta, Metadel K. Abera, Wondwosen A. Aregawi, Quang Tri Ho, Pieter Verboven, Jan Carmeliet, Bart M. Nicolai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Water loss of fruit typically results in fruit tissue deformation and consequent quality loss. To better understand the mechanism of water loss, a model of water transport between cells and intercellular spaces coupled with cell deformation was developed. Pear (Pyrus communis L. cv. Conference) was chosen as a model system as this fruit suffers from shriveling with excessive water loss. A 2D geometric model of cortex tissue was obtained by a virtual fruit tissue generator that is based on cell growth modeling. The transport of water in the intercellular space, the cell wall network and cytoplasm was predicted using transport laws using the chemical potential as the driving force for water exchange between different microstructural compartments. The different water transport properties of the microstructural components were obtained experimentally or from literature. An equivalent microscale model that incorporates the dynamics of mechanical deformation of the cellular structure was implemented. The model predicted the apparent tissue conductivity of pear cortex tissue to be 9.42 ± 0.40 × 10-15 kg m -1 s-1 Pa-1, in the same range as those measured experimentally. The largest gradients in water content were observed across the cell walls and cell membranes. A sensitivity analysis of membrane permeability and elastic modulus of the wall on the water transport properties and deformation showed that the membrane permeability has the largest influence. The model can be improved further by taking into account 3-D connectivity of cells and intercellular pore spaces. It will then become feasible to evaluate measures to reduce water loss of fruit during storage and distribution using the microscale model in a multiscale modeling framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-96
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Food Engineering
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support by the Flanders Fund for Scientific Research (project FWO G.0603.08), KU Leuven (project OT 08/023, project OT/12/055) and the EC (project InsideFood FP7-226783) is gratefully acknowledged. The opinions expressed in this document do by no means reflect their official opinion or that of its representatives.


  • Cell wall
  • Diffusion
  • Mechanics
  • Structure
  • Turgor


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