Genes could be used to improve wine - scientists find

Certain DNA sequences could identify grapevines more suited to climate change

DNA analysis of Italian grapes has highlighted particular genes that could be used to improve berry and wine quality, scientists say.  Photograph: Fulvio Roiter

DNA analysis of Italian grapes has highlighted particular genes that could be used to improve berry and wine quality, scientists say. Photograph: Fulvio Roiter

 

DNA analysis of Italian grapes has highlighted particular genes that could be used to improve berry and wine quality, scientists say.

Researchers in Italy have pinpointed certain DNA sequences that could be used to identify and breed grapevine varieties that are more suited to climate change and increase their consistency in performance.

Environmental influences can affect the qualities of grapevines, and this inconveniences the berry producers. “This can be considered a burden because the berries may mature unevenly and display large interseasonal fluctuations in quality,” the authors of the paper say this morning in the journal Genome Biology.

Grapevine berries vary in their qualities, dependent on the different regions or climates they are grown in. To investigate this, Silvia Dal Santo and her team at the Plant Genetics Lab at the University of Verona, grew a single variety of grape, the Corvina berry, across 11 different regions in Verona.

Through genetically analysing them over three consecutive years, the researchers were to pick out various environmentally sensitive genes that could influence berry quality. These qualities ranged from such specific factors such as how the berries tasted, to how they looked and even to how they were textured.

Genes that remained unchanged across the different grapes regardless of the region they were grown in were judged to be independent of the surrounding environment. These genes could be used in the future as a marker to monitor grape ripening in the field, even of other varieties, and help to optimise picking time and standardise wine quality, according to the authors.

The grapevine is the most widely cultivated perennial fruit crop in the world, and accounted for 67.5 million tonnes of berries produced in 2011. Climate change is expected to significantly impact the agriculture of wine-making.

Dal Santo’s work, headed by Professor of Plant Genetics Mario Pezzotti, will come as a relief to winemakers and drinkers alike, to whom this variability can negatively affect.

The work was funded by projects of the CARIVERONA Bank Foundation, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Policies, and by Regione Veneto.