Although the vine genome had been successfully sequenced by August 2007, the results were not released until the March 9 conference, chaired by project-coordinator, Professor Michele Morgante (left).
“The problems of agriculture,” said Professor Morgante, “can be solved in three different ways: farming practices, chemistry, and genetic improvement. In the case of viticulture, only the first two approaches have been employed. Notably, [grape growers] have relied only on the use of chemicals in the battle against pathogens while grain growers, for example, have tried to develop resistant species. The contribution of genetics to viticulture has been minimal: that’s why the grape varieties we use are the same as those of 100-200 years ago… As a result, although only 5% of Europe’s farmed surface area is devoted to grape growing, viticulture accounts for 46% of the pesticides used, 460 thousand tons per year, 70 or 80 times as much as that used for grains.”
One of the more remarkable findings was the number of “genes devoted to the synthesis of compounds used to produce the final quality of wine: in its 19 chromosomes, there are 89 genes for terpene synthase (an enzyme necessary for the biosynthesis of terpenoids, which give wine its aroma) and 43 for the synthesis of stilbene synthase, needed for the synthesis of resveratrol.” Surprisingly, the vine genome “is more similar to the human genome than to that of other plants,” said Morgante.
Researchers must now translate the project’s findings into practical applications, noted Morgante, who suggested that further genetic research should be devoted to the development of pathogen-resistant species.