Mapping The Way To The Next Generation Of Grapes

When Thomas Jefferson planted European grapevines in Virginia more than 200 years ago, they quickly succumbed to pests and diseases. Grape varieties that were native to the area like muscadines and those related to Vitis labrusca could survive in this environment, but for the Vitis vinifera varieties that made the wines that he loved to drink, the environment presented challenges that they had no defense against.

Today, most North American vineyards, and particularly those in the East, face many of the same challenges as those planted by Jefferson. Fortunately, we understand much more about managing pests like phylloxera, and diseases like black rot and anthracnose, and have tools available to keep them in check. But the basic fact still remains — we’re trying to grow many grape varieties in conditions that are different from those where they evolved and are genetically adapted to.

For more than 100 years, grape breeders have worked to develop new varieties that include desirable traits like resistance to mildew infections or being better able to tolerate cold temperatures in the winter. The problem is that the species with traits that we want also have characteristics that we don’t want, like undesirable aromas, flavors, or color compounds. It can take decades to develop a new variety that has the desired characteristics and also minimizes the undesirable ones (the second challenge is to get consumers to recognize and accept a new variety, but that’s a whole other story). It would be great to give breeders the tools to quickly and accurately identify seedlings that have the traits that they want, and discard those that don’t.

Enter VitisGen

Launched in 2011, thanks to a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (NIFA-SCRI), VitisGen brings together scientists from 11 different research institutions across the U.S., and is supported by private industry. Their shared goal is to accelerate the development of the next generation of grapes.

VitisGen marks an important advance in traditional breeding programs. The techniques and technology being used as part of VitisGen will speed up the development of new grape varieties with advantageous qualities for both producers and consumers. In consultation with public agencies and private industry, VitisGen identified three priority traits to focus its initial efforts on: resistance to powdery mildew, improved low temperature tolerance, and fruit quality. VitisGen will identify molecular markers — pieces of DNA that are part of, or located very close to, the actual genes of interest — that will help grape breeders to select grapevines favoring the priority traits to use in new crosses. Project scientists are using new technology that will decrease the time, effort, cost, and space necessary for developing these new markers, and thus new varieties. For example, VitisGen could lead to a new grape variety that tastes a lot like Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling, but is highly resistant to powdery mildew, the most important (and expensive) fungal pest of grapes.

It is important to note that VitisGen is focused on improving the tools and the processes used in traditional breeding programs, and not on developing transgenic, or “GMO,” grapes. Using a wide range of grape varieties and species, the breeders, geneticists, pathologists, food chemists, and others involved in the project are trying to identify the genes that influence disease resistance, cold tolerance, and aromas and flavors that are already found in other grapes (as opposed to those from fish or peanuts or other organisms). Once those genes are identified in young seedlings, breeders can make better and faster decisions about which seedlings to keep and use in new crosses, utilizing traditional breeding techniques used by professional scientists and hobbyists with flowers, tomatoes, apples, and most other agricultural crops. The result will be new grape varieties that are better adapted to withstand a range of environmental and biological pressures while producing high-quality fruit, which benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment.

For more information about VitisGen, visit the project’s website at www.vitisgen.org.

Several Partners

Scientists from the following institutions are part of VitisGen:
• Cornell University
• Dalhousie University
• Florida A&M University
• Mississippi State University
• Missouri State University
• Oklahoma City University
• Oklahoma State University
• South Dakota State University
• University of California–Davis
• University of Minnesota
• USDA–Agricultural Research Service

Private support for VitisGen is being provided by:
• E&J Gallo Winery
• National Grape & Wine Initiative
• J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
• California Table Grape Commission

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fruits Stories
farm hacks collage
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your Farm Hacks
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More
Fruits
July 14, 2017
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Predator Egg Mass Found
Samuri wasp parasitized egg mass found in Southern New Jersey peach orchard. Read More
Rain drops on leaf
Citrus
July 14, 2017
Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers Winning at Water Quality
Annual report shows use of best management practices results in another massive reduction in phosphorus flow. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
The Road is Long to Farm Bill 2018 [Opinion]
Participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed. Read More
2015 FFVA Annual Convention crowd
Citrus
July 13, 2017
Trade Talk to Top Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Convention Agenda
Trade issues are top of mind these days for specialty crop producers. Efforts have been underway since early this year Read More
Beet-armyworms-on-a-tomato-plant
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibalism, New Study Shows
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Organic Production List
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
darkwinged fungus gnat larvae
Fruits
July 12, 2017
How to Deal with Annoying Fungus Gnats on the Farm
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this insect pest. Read More
Carl and Dustin Grooms of Fancy Farms
Business Planning
July 11, 2017
Young Florida Farmers Ready to Take the Reins
As growers age, the next generation is stepping up and stepping into leadership roles on the farm. Read More
Dr. Martha Roberts
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Florida Reveals Its Latest Woman of the Year in Agriculture
2017 award recipient a true trailblazer and champion for the advancement of the state’s farming industry. Read More
Mobile technology farming
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precision Agriculture Closer to Earth
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
Online shopping graphic for GenNext Growers webcast
Business Planning
July 10, 2017
Farming for Online Sales Will Require Growers to Reboot
Modern agriculture might not be for everyone, but it’s here to stay. Embrace it. Read More
Fruits
July 9, 2017
USDA Invests $6.8 Million for Pollinator Health
Projects focus on colony losses, pollinator habitats, and increase pollinator populations. Read More
Fruits
July 8, 2017
Spanish Summer Tour to focus on Science of Horticulture
Popular tour returns again with a focus on the data behind cropload management. Read More
Fruits
July 7, 2017
Young Ag Biotech Rootstock Company Lands $7 Million
Phytelligence secures $6.95 million in new funding, opens door for new round of funding. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a N…
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Pl…
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This …
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your …
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More
Fruits
July 14, 2017
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Predator Egg …
Samuri wasp parasitized egg mass found in Southern New Jersey peach orchard. Read More
Citrus
July 14, 2017
Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers Win…
Annual report shows use of best management practices results in another massive reduction in phosphorus flow. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
The Road is Long to Farm Bill 2018 [Opin…
Participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
Trade Talk to Top Florida Fruit & Ve…
Trade issues are top of mind these days for specialty crop producers. Efforts have been underway since early this year Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibali…
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Orga…
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Fruits
July 12, 2017
How to Deal with Annoying Fungus Gnats o…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this insect pest. Read More
Business Planning
July 11, 2017
Young Florida Farmers Ready to Take the …
As growers age, the next generation is stepping up and stepping into leadership roles on the farm. Read More
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Florida Reveals Its Latest Woman of the …
2017 award recipient a true trailblazer and champion for the advancement of the state’s farming industry. Read More
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precisi…
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
Business Planning
July 10, 2017
Farming for Online Sales Will Require Gr…
Modern agriculture might not be for everyone, but it’s here to stay. Embrace it. Read More
Fruits
July 9, 2017
USDA Invests $6.8 Million for Pollinator…
Projects focus on colony losses, pollinator habitats, and increase pollinator populations. Read More
Fruits
July 8, 2017
Spanish Summer Tour to focus on Science …
Popular tour returns again with a focus on the data behind cropload management. Read More
Fruits
July 7, 2017
Young Ag Biotech Rootstock Company Lands…
Phytelligence secures $6.95 million in new funding, opens door for new round of funding. Read More