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Scientists are Developing Disease-Resistant Grape Species

Researchers hope to use the grape genome to produce disease-resistant grapes

January 24, 2011

The varietals we enjoy today have mainly developed from one species of grape, making them very susceptible to disease

Scientists at Stanford, Cornell, and the US Department of Agriculture claim that the future of wine-making is dependent on the development of a new grape variety. In a report by the BBC, scientists have mapped the genome of more than 1,000 vines in the hope of using the data to produce a breed of disease-resistant grapes.

As explained by the BBC, the varietals we enjoy today have mainly developed from one species of grape, Vitis vinifera vinifer, which was domesticated about 5,000 years ago. Since then, the species has been cultivated into hundreds of varieties and has formed the backbone for winemaking around the world. With hundreds of grape varieties and little cross-breeding between them, these vines are sitting ducks for disease. Vinifera grapes do not have natural resistance to powdery mildew fungus, a disease that evolved in the United States, and just one in a number of major grape diseases that threaten the wine industry.

Scientists in the Stanford/Cornell study hope that through cross-breeding with disease resistant plants or manipulating Vinifera's genes, a new grape species will reduce the environmental footprint of wineries. They predict that the process will take more than four years, giving time for the vines to grow and wine to be made, and even then there is no guarantee that it will taste like our favorite varietals. However, the good news is that experimentation with new vines will mean a wider variety of wines from which to choose.

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(Updated: 01/24/11 JC)

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