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Ripening Research for BC Wine

Media Release, February 18, 2015 – Four new innovative research projects have been funded through Genome BC’s Strategic Opportunities Fund (SOF). The SOF program, with funding provided by Genome BC and several partners, aims to catalyze new projects and initiatives of strategic importance to BC’s economic sectors.

Grapevine (Vitis vinifera) is one of the most widely cultivated fruit crops. The BC grape and wine industry is steadily increasing, growing from 17 wineries in 1990 to about 273 today, and BC wines are widely recognized for their high quality. Nevertheless, in some areas unfavourable seasons can limit fruit maturation making the production of premium wines challenging.

One of the newly funded projects through this sixth round of SOF funding is being led by a new recruit to the Wine Research Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Simone Diego Castellarin, Assistant Professor, is leading a new project with a budget of $200,000 that aims to investigate the initial molecular and physiological events involved in ripening. The project, entitled Molecular and physiological characteristics of early ripening events in grapevine will use leading edge genomic technologies to uncover little known information about the drivers of metabolic changes central to triggering ripening.

“Grape softening is the earliest ripening event,” says Castellarin. “Using an integrative approach we are helping to understand the biology behind berry ripening so that new strategies can be developed and implemented to speed it up or slow it down.” Recently, it has been shown that molecular and physiological events associated with ripening occur earlier than previously thought and likely act as triggers for major events such as acid catalysis and the accumulation of sugar, aromas and pigment.

The project will employ an innovative fruit sampling methodology that allows the non-destructive separation of berries approaching the onset of ripening based on their level of elasticity (i.e. a precise quantitative measure of softening). The sampling will be focused on developmental stages that precede what is normally considered the beginning of ripening as defined by color development. Metabolites from each developmental stage will be quantified and evaluated and then related back to the corresponding expression profile of the berry’s genome. This molecular signature can be used as a form of diagnostic that allows the identification of those genes involved in these early ripening events.

The knowledge generated by the grapevine project will facilitate future viticulture studies focused on developing practices that enhance or delay ripening. This project will also form the basis for a more extended research program on molecular viticulture at the UBC Wine Research Centre, establishing strong international research collaborations and strengthening interactions with the BC grape and wine industry.

“The wine industry is of significant value to the BC economy,” said Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “This growing industry will benefit from more investment into understanding the mechanisms behind grape ripening so as to maximize the growing season for wineries in our province.”

Other projects funded in this round include:

  • Pamela Hoodless (BC Cancer Agency; Terry Fox Laboratory), Christian Steidl (BC Cancer Agency; Experimental Therapeutics) & Keith Humphries (BC Cancer Agency; Terry Fox Laboratory): Modelling Human Lymphoma Mutations in Mice
  • Rob Holt (BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre) & Raewyn Broady (UBC, Division of Hematology): Metagenomic analysis of lung infiltrates in patients with leukemia
  • Inanc Birol (BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre): Advanced Assembly Assessment and Annotation
Genome BC’s competitive and peer-reviewed Strategic Opportunities Fund program has ongoing opportunities for funding. Please visit their website for details: www.genomebc.ca/sof

Ripening Research for BC Wine

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