A tale of three Gs – grape, germs and genetics

“There is more wit in these bottles than in all the books of philosophy in the world,” wrote Louis Pasteur in 1843, looking forward to the pleasure of toasting with a friend (Charles Chappuis). The French microbiologist, whose bicentenary of birth was celebrated last year, was one of the fathers of the science of wine, as well as of germ theory. I wonder what he would write today, knowing how much progress is being made by geneticists to preserve the spirit of ancient vines while protecting them from the evils of diseases.

Italy is probably the country most involved in vine editing, with at least four active groups including the Edmund Mach Foundation in Trentino Alto Adige, the University of Verona, which has also launched a dedicated spin-off (EdiVite), the Crea Research Centre for Viticulture and Enology, which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Research Council with the Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection in Turin. They are working to help vines tolerate climatic stress, but above all to protect them from biological enemies.

Plant pathogens, just like human pathogens, evolve and travel. In order to apply less pesticides, with a view to environmental sustainability and quality wine making, we will have to rely on biotech strategies and tools able to preserve the genetic identity of varieties. The targets on which to act can be divided into two broad categories: susceptibility genes and resistance genes. I asked Michele Morgante (University of Udine) and Mario Pezzotti (Mach Foundation) to tell me what CRISPR and cisgenesis can do for the future of wine. To learn more, please see my article in AgriScienza).

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