Making Grapes Better: Collaboration Seeks to Speed Up Super-Grape Research


Earlier this week Growing Produce reporter Ann-Marie Jeffries dove into the interesting and detailed world of grape research, speaking with experts from a research collaborative called VitisGen to get the inside story on what's cooking in the experimental kitchens of America's leading grape researchers. 
“With a focus on disease  resistance and hardiness, researchers are hard at work developing the grape cultivars of the future,” Jeffries wrote this past Tuesday. “Through a multidisciplinary collaborative project called VitisGen, researchers are working to decrease the time, effort, and cost of developing these new grapes.”
To describe the project summarily, she quoted informational copy from VitisGen's website.
“(The project) incorporates cutting-edge genomics technology and socioeconomic research into the traditional grape breeding and evaluation process, which will speed up the ability to identify important genes related to consumer-valued traits like disease resistance, low temperature tolerance and enhanced fruit quality,” the site said.
Jeffries talked with Bruce Reisch, a researcher from Cornell University who is part of the VitisGen team. He filled the reader in on the genesis of the project.
“For months in 2010, we put words to paper and signed up a total of about 25 colleagues to play a wide range of goals in aspects of improving genetic technology for grapevine improvement,” he told Jeffries. “The entire project also includes studies of industry need, analyses of the potential benefits of new varieties from an economic standpoint, as well as Extension to communicate project goals and progress to the public,” Reisch said in the story. 
Researcher Hans Walter-Peterson told Jeffries that the beauty of the project is that it incorporates researchers from a variety of fields: breeders, geneticists, pathologists, economists, food scientists and social scientists. 
The heart of the project pumps with the blood of genetics, the story said. Researchers are trying to map out the chromosomes of grapevines, a sort of Human Genome Project for grapes. 
Once mapped, scientists hope to find desirable genes within the vine which can increase resistance to disease, among other sought-after traits. 
“DNA technology can help us locate vines with three or more powdery-mildew resistant genes,” Reisch said. “These vines should have stable, long-lasting resistance, which a pathogen like powdery mildew will have nearly no chance to overcome.” 
Walter-Peterson reinforced that his team isn't genetically modifying the vines, just identifying helpful genes. 
“The primary goal of this phase of VitisGen has been to develop high-resolution chromosome maps to identify genetic markers within various species of grapes that are associated with certain traits,” he told Jeffries. “This information can then be used by breeding programs around the world to improve their ability to rapidly screen seedlings to determine if they contain the desire traits.” 
Photo Credit: Pixabay

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