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Disease-resistant grape cultivars needed

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Wine production may be under threat

11 February 2011

The future of European wine production could be under threat unless new disease-resistant hybrids of grapevines are bred to replace traditional varieties, according to a group of international researchers.

The scientists, from botanic gardens and universities in the United States, Canada and Italy, mapped the genomes of more than 1,000 samples of grapevine (Vitis vinifera) and found domestic grapes are genetically limited thanks to thousands of years of propagating the same varieties through cuttings – a practice the researchers describe as 'a double-edged sword'.

'Although it provided a benefit by ensuring true breeding cultivars,' the scientists said, 'it also discouraged the generation of unique cultivars through crosses.'

Current leading grape varieties such as V. vinifera 'Merlot', 'Chardonnay' and 'Riesling' have little natural resistance to disease, particularly powdery mildew, and as the European Commission considers heavy restrictions on spraying against disease on 'non-essential' crops from 2013, their future commercial survival is in doubt.

However, the team says, genome mapping also provides the tools to save the grape. By using genetic 'markers' to indicate genes which control disease resistance, and introducing genetic material from different regions and from other grape species such as V. sylvestris, the team hopes better natural resistance can be bred into grape cultivars without the need for spraying.


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