No one knows the importance of weather and weather patterns on our food supply like farmers do. Agriculture will continue to be widely affected by climate change, and growers will need to be able to adapt to these changes. Grape and apple growers in the North East US are already well aware that budbreak and bloom have gradually crept to earlier dates each year. Strategies to adapt to these changes may include viticultural practices or cultivar breeding and selection programs, but whatever the best plan, several scientists in Italy recently identified the need to evaluate the “plasticity” – or flexibility – of the grape berry genome in response to varying environments (Dal Santo et al. 2013).
Dal Santo et al.‘s study evaluated the expression of grape berry genes from vineyards in 11 different vineyards in the Verona Region of Italy. By understanding what genes are expressed under specific vineyard conditions and how they affect wine quality, grapevine breeders can work to establish breeding programs to target specific cultivars with desirable traits that will thrive under adverse conditions. Furthermore, researchers and growers can work together to target specific cultural practices to aim toward specific quality outcomes for the optimal characteristics desired for wine production.
The researchers identified plastic genes that were associated with groups of vineyards that shared management practices or weather conditions. Data was collected from 2006-2008, with the 2007 season varying dramatically from the other two, and this difference was seen across all samples, regardless of where the vines were growing. What is nice about this data set is that researches have gained an understanding of how this particular variety, Vitis, vinifera cv. Corvina, (and presumably other V. vinifera cultivars) responds to changes in the environment. From this, work can be done to target new varieties or management strategies that up- or down-regulate specific stress-related genes to optimize vines’ growth and fruit quality in certain parts of the world.
Constitutive “housekeeping genes” – those that are expressed all the time, regardless of where they were growing – were some of the non-plastic genes that were also identified in the genome. Knowing these genes will be useful for further analyses on gene expression in breeding programs. These continually-expressed genes, combined with the plastic genes, could eventually lead to strategies to improve in-field monitoring of fruit ripening, especially since there were greater differences in gene expression related to climate early in berry development.
A summary of the paper in esciencenews.com notes that:
“The team were able to highlight various environmentally-sensitive genes thought to influence berry quality. These included genes regulating metabolic pathways — such as the production of phenolic compounds which contribute to taste, colour and ‘mouth-feel’ of wine — that were highly sensitive towards different climates.”
Wouldn’t it be good to know if the climate where your vineyard is located will contribute to the mouth-feel of your wines? This is a great study that is just delving in to the world of the grape transcriptome (genes that are expressed), and I look forward to seeing more like this in the future.
Silvia D Santo, Giovanni B Tornielli, Sara Zenoni, Marianna Fasoli, Lorenzo Farina, Andrea Anesi, Flavia Guzzo, Massimo Delledonne and Mario Pezzotti. The plasticity of the grapevine berry transcriptome. Genome Biology 2013, 14:r54 doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-6-r54