Researchers have completed the most comprehensive genetic analysis to date of the domesticated grape, and, as described in a USDA release, their work could help wine-makers grow grapes that are better able to resist pests and pathogens. When I heard about the research, I posed a few questions to lead author Sean Myles, PhD, a Stanford postdoctoral research scientist who conducted the study while at Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you give a quick summary of your findings?
There is tremendous genetic diversity at our disposal today to breed improved cultivars with desirable characteristics, like higher sugar content, more intense aromas and, most importantly, enhanced resistance to pathogens.
How exactly do these findings show the potential for improving existing wine and table grapes?
We discovered and assayed the most genetic markers in a perennial fruit crop than any study to date. By combining these genetic data with phenotype data, we can identify markers associated with traits of agronomic importance (e.g. yield, flavour, aroma, growth habit, disease resistance). Then we can use this information to breed new cultivars with desirable traits using marker-assisted breeding.
How might these findings benefit those who grow grapes?
Grapes suffer from severe pathogen pressures. Vineyards all over the world are treated heavily with chemicals to ward off mildews and other pathogens. Our insights provide the foundation for marker-assisted breeding programs that will result in cultivars that are resistant to disease. If growers are brave enough to discard 1,000-year-old cultivars, like Pinot Noir, which are sitting ducks for pathogen pressures, and begin growing disease-resistant cultivars, we can drastically reduce the amount of chemicals we spray onto the world's vineyards. The challenge will be the development of cultivars that are as tasty as the ones we are used to.
The study was published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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