Scientists in France and Italy have deciphered the complete genetic code for the plant producing wine grapes, said a study published on Sunday. The findings could pave the way for gene-based manipulations to boost flavour and improve resistance against disease.
Dozens of researchers analysing the Pinot Noir varietal of Vitis vinifera, the core species from which virtually all grape wine is made, found twice as many genes contributing to aroma than in other sequenced plants, suggesting that wine flavours could be traced to the genome level.
The French-Italian Public Consortium for Grapevine Genome Characterisation, which collectively authoured the study, also gained crucial insights into the genetic evolution of plants over the last 200 million of years.
V. vinifera is only the fourth complete genetic sequence ever produced for a flowering plant, and the first for a fruit crop. The other three are rice, the poplar, and Thale Cress, a species of wild plant related to mustard and cabbage.
Pinot Noir, the signature grape of the famous Burgundy wine region in northern France, was selected because of its inbred genotype, which made it easier to sequence.
The study, published in Nature, is of enormous interest to grape growing and wine industries eager to diminish costly plant disease and enhance the flavour of a product that generates 200 billion dollars a year.
The study identified the genetic source in the plant of resveratrol, the anti-oxidant in red wine that been widely associated with health benefits ranging from anti-aging to boosting anti-viral treatments.