Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Italians Crack Open DNA Secrets of Pinot Noir"

By Ben Hirschler
Tue Dec 18, 8:59 PM ET

Original story here

Italian scientists have cracked open the genetic make-up of Pinot Noir, responsible for the great red wines of Burgundy, in a breakthrough that may lead to hardier vines and cheaper fine wines.

The researchers said on Wednesday they had found more than 2 million genetic variants within the Pinot Noir grape, providing winegrowers with a "treasure trove" in the hunt for new strains. Pinot Noir, made famous by the 2004 film "Sideways," has been dubbed the "heartbreak grape" because it is so difficult to grow and susceptible to disease.

Understanding what makes up the variety at the DNA level means it may now be possible to breed disease-resistant grapes without sacrificing taste, according to Riccardo Velasco, head of genetics at the Istituto Agrario San Michele all'Adige.

"Discovering these 2 million molecular markers is a tremendous tool which will help in the breeding not only of Pinot Noir but every cultivated grape variety," he said in an interview.

While the genome of Pinot Noir has been mapped in draft form before, Velasco and his team are the first to catalogue the myriad single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, found scattered amongst its 30,000 genes. SNPs are single-letter changes in the genetic code.

The Italian team have also identified a large number of genes related to disease resistance, 289 of which contain SNPs, they reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

Brian Dilkes of the University of California said this information was a "treasure trove" which should fast-track the traditional breeding selection process.

"When I told sommelier Andrew Meadows about this recently, his reaction was, 'Good! I would love to offer a decent Pinot for less than $30'," Dilkes said.

There are no plans to introduce artificially genetically modified grapes into some of the world's most revered vineyards.

"We're not interested in GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GMOs are not allowed in Europe and would not be accepted in the grape world, which is extremely conservative," Velasco said.

His full paper is freely available on the Internet at http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0001326

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