What Will We Drink When The Planet Heats Up?
Italian geneticists are planning to engineer climate-change-tolerant wine grapes.
Grapes are phenomenally adaptable. We can grow wine grapes in the mountains of Arizona and north of the Great Lakes in Ontario. But what happens when the planet heats up and the formerly lush, perfect wine-growing regions of the world become, well, less so? How will we get drunk during the holidays then?
A new study from a group of Italian researchers is using genetic research to pinpoint exactly which genes need to be manipulated in order to breed more heat-resistant wine grapes. The team specifically worked with the Corvina grape, used in northern Italy to produce the light red Bardolino and Valpolicella varietals of wine. The study took three years and 11 different vineyards.
The idea to identify the genes in these grapes that indicated how they’d respond to different weather. Specifically, they were looking for genes that represent what’s called phenotypic plasticity, which is essentially the ability of an organism to respond and adjust to changes in its environment. The genome mapping was used to determine which genes can do this (“are plastic”) and which can’t (“are non-plastic”).
In the future, knowing which genes aid adaptability could allow the plant to adjust itself. This isn’t breeding for plants that can stand up to the warmth, it’s potentially breeding for plants that can react by themselves to the warmth.
You can read the full paper, which is published in this month’s issue of Genome Biology, here (PDF).