Field of Science

Important science - Wine Grape Genetics

The research that made Louis Pasteur famous originated with a government commission to find out why wine was spoiling leading to the discovery that things like spoilage and infections, and indeed fermentation itself, were the direct result of the metabolisms of invisibly small organisms. It's good that many scientists are focused on the public good as the driving force of their research, and this report from the proceedings of the National Academy of Science is downright scary. If grape breeders don't get busy and inject some new genetic diversity into the gene pool of wine grapes, the whole industry could be in trouble. When Mrs. Phactor, a wine survivalist, hears about this, the wine cellar which now only holds 120 or so bottles will have to be greatly enlarged. You begin to worry about the end of civilization coming when and your supply of wine being only 100 bottles or so. After all it'll take a couple of years to get your own winery going. This genetic study indicates that early in the domestication of wine grapes, some 6000-8000 years ago (this study's molecular clock suggests wine grapes arose 5000 years ago) whatever stock was successful became sort of a genetic bottle neck, a small subset of the wild grape genome, and modern varieties all trace to back to this source. Various diseases resulting from their wide-spread cultivation are catching up and the only chance of the wine industry lasting another 5000 years is to breed in new disease resistance. Worries like this can ruin your sleep. And it's probably true for any number of other domesticated plants too. Even worse when the crop is propagated asexually, like the poor Cavendish banana that is so beset with disease that you may as well kiss the most popular banana of the northern temperate zone goodbye. Fortunately better bananas exist, they just aren't part of the cultivated banana industry, although a few other varieties are beginning to appear in our markets. And this is why so much more research is necessary on the origins and domestication of those plants that feed people. And why students need access to basic botanical education, which has been systematically downsized in the USA in favor of human-biomedical biology. Why should people be impressed by physicians and befuddled by botanists. Botany what? Oh, yeah, on that great scale used to decide worth in our culture, salary, physicians get paid about half of what botanists are actually worth. Doesn't the Phactor wish. Come on! Wine! This is life and death stuff here!
HT to AoB blog.

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