Monday, October 1, 2007

The Genome Project - Vine Style

Listen, we all know that your DNA is what makes you who you are. For instance, my DNA has dictated that I will be a pitiful 5’-6” tall for the rest of my life, with a head the size of a compact car. There’s no changing it…take a sample for my blood or saliva, and you can map it for yourself. We all have a map, and they contain somewhere in the range of 20,000 genes.

Now, every miserable time you take a look in the mirror and see “that thing” looking back at you, you can thank hundreds of years of history for that marvelous creation you call INSERT YOUR NAME HERE. All facets of nature have a genetic structure…humans, animal, plants, etc. But, for the first time ever, scientists have identified the genetic map of a fruit. Care to wager a guess which fruit that was? I’ll give you a hint…if you drink red Burgundy or Champagne you’re drinking its juice.

That’s right, French and Italian researchers have mapped the genome of the pinot noir grape. And - you ready for this – it’s more complex than the human genome. The pinot noir grape has about 30,000 genes in its DNA. Ain’t that something?

So, what does the map tell us? The team said its research had confirmed that the grape has an unusually high number of genes whose job it is to create flavor. More than 100 of its genes are dedicated to producing tannins and terpenes — compared to about 50 for other plants. Even more exciting for us wine drinkers, is the fact that the mapping of those flavor-producing genes could be a first step toward developing new flavors in wine by allowing scientists to breed different varieties to create precise new tastes.

The research also showed what most of us already know – pinot noir is extremely sensitive to where they are grown, which illustrates why we have different flavors in wines from Burgundy, California, Oregon or New Zealand.

Now some of you might be sitting here saying ‘who the hell cares?’ But these scientific breakthroughs will undoubtedly have a significant impact on wine production and viticulture in the years to come. Imagine the ability to develop new flavors based on genetic manipulation, or to have the ability to enhance the vines defense from mildew and insects. The opportunities appear endless, and even YOU may be able to taste it in your wine glass ten years from now.

Amazing what science can do, isn’t it? To think this tiny, tasty, juicy, delicate piece of fruit that so many of us take for granted has a structure as complex as ours. Centuries of evolution that end up in our glasses, and ultimately enhance our meals. Next time you pop open a bottle of wine made from the pinot noir grape, remember to pay homage to the more superior organism. Just kidding.

Let me know what you think of this discovery...

For a complete AP story on the research findings, please click here.

1 comment:

Grape Nut said...

I bet there would be a big backlash to genetically modified wine, just as there is to gen mod corn and soybeans. I could see it especially fierce in the wine community, one that is really embracing the organic farming, etc. I would add though, as someone who has relatives that are farmers, if you could make the crop more resistant (without altering flavor) to pests, I think growers and wine makers alike would embrace it. Just my two-cents.