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Genome sequencing of grapevines that are resistant to fungi

In cooperation with the company SEQ.IT, the Julius Kühn Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof has sequenced the fungus-resistant grapevine variety “Regent” and has succeeded in obtaining a first grapevine breeding milestone for viticulture. The high-throughput sequencing of the "Regent" genome was done in triplicate and involved the pyrosequencing technology. The sequence provides the researchers with insights into the grapevine’s typical mildew resistances on the molecular level and helps them understand the resistance mechanisms from the analysis of the functions of individual “Regent” genes.

Regent grapevine variety which is resistant to mildew © JKI

In contrast to big wine-growing countries such as France, Italy and Spain, the cultivation and production of wine in Germany is rather moderate. Only about 105,000 hectares (=3%) of the entire European vineyard area (3.6 million hectares) are in Germany. On the regional level, viticulture is of major economic importance, in particular in Germany's southwest. In Rhineland-Palatinate, which produces about 60% of German wine on an area of 64,500 hectares (as of 2006), around 50 % of the entire agricultural production value is achieved with wine production. The Siebeldingen-based Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof close to the city of Landau (Pfälzer Weinstrasse) focuses on the breeding of high-quality fungus-resistant grapevines.

JKI for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof in Siebeldingen © JKI

Germany has been a leader in the breeding and cultivation of fungus-resistant grapevines for many years. One of the goals in developing fungus-resistant grapevines is to reduce the use of environmentally harmful pesticides. The Riesling or Pinot Noir varieties, which are important and traditionally grown grapevine varieties in the Palatinate area, are particularly susceptible to powdrey (Uncinula necator) and downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola) and can only be grown using large quantities of fungicides. These two fungi were introduced from North America to Europe in the 19th century.

Speeding up the breeding process through genome sequencing

In cooperation with the company SEQ.IT, the researchers at the JKI Geilweilerhof have succeeded in making a decisive step in the breeding of new fungus-resistant grapevine varieties. The researchers carried out the first complete sequencing of a fungus-resistant grapevine variety. The genome of the “Regent” grapevine variety bred at the JKI consists of around 480 million basepairs. With a cultivation area of around 2,000 ha, the “Regent” grapevine is the most important mildew-resistant grapevine variety in German viticulture. The high-throughput sequencing of the “Regent” genome, which was carried out using the pyrosequencing technology, now enables the researchers to gain detailed understanding of Regent-typical mildew resistances on the molecular level and investigate the resistance mechanisms on the basis of the function of individual genes. “If we understand how the resistance mechanisms function and can also perhaps combine several resistances, then we will be able to achieve what we are aiming at more quickly,” said Dr. Reinhard Töpfer, head of the JKI Institute for Grapevine Breeding. Although it was previously possible to produce genetic fingerprints, which were used to select resistant grapevines from the progeny of crossings, the analysis of the complete “Regent” sequence now enables the more targeted and quicker breeding of fungus-resistant grapevine varieties. The researchers envisage that it will be possible to reduce the time-consuming breeding process of new and more adapted grapevine varieties by up to ten years.

SEQ.IT GmbH & Co. KG based in Kaiserlautern, which carried out the sequencing of the "Regent" genome, is a highly specialised contract research organisation which offers sequencing as well as transcriptome and metagenome analyses using state-of-the-art equipment. The company is a spin-off of the Institute of Immunology and Genetics at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern. In September 2009, the Institute and SEQ.IT were distinguished as "Finalists of the year 2009" in the Germany-wide competition for the "Großer Preis des Mittelstandes" of the Oskar Patzelt Foundation (see link in the top right-hand corner).

A European Centre for grapevine breeding

The Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof started way back in 1926 by breeding new grapevine varieties that were highly resistant to pests and weather-related stress factors at the same time as producing an excellent quality wine. It took several decades before the researchers succeeded in developing the “Regent” red wine variety, a colour-intensive red wine with rather a lot of tannin and an aroma of cherries or blackcurrants. After “Regent” the Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof, recently bred four new grapevine varieties – Felicia, Villaris, Calandro and Reberger – which show further improvement with respect to fungal resistance and/or wine quality.

Besides the breeding of grapevines and the development of new breeding technologies using genome analyses, the Institute is a resource centre which maintains a collection of almost 4000 grapevine varieties and accessions. As part of the “GrapeGen06” project funded by the European Union, the JKI reprogrammed the EU Vitis Database, a European grapevine database with datasets of around 30,000 grapevines or accessions. Each dataset consists of more than 30 criteria or features. The collection and coordination of these data under one roof is an important step towards maintaining the diversity of grapevine varieties beyond German and European borders. As an information centre for grapevines and wines, the JKI also maintains “VITIS-VEA”, an international database for scientific literature and VIVC, the Vitis International Variety Catalogue which provides information on more than 21,000 Vitis species and breeding lines.

Julius Kühn Institute

The Julius Kühn Institute (JKI), the Federal Research Institute for Cultivated Plants, is a federal research centre of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV).

It has 15 institutes at six sites, including institutes in the cities of Siebeldingen (Palatinate) and Dossenheim close to Heidelberg. The institute in Quedlinburg (Saxony-Anhalt) is also the headquarters of the Federal Research Institute, which is itself the result of a merger (1st January 2008) between the Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry (BBA), the Federal Centre for Breeding Research on Cultivated Plants (BAZ) and two institutes (Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science and the Institute of Crop and Grassland Science) of the Federal Agricultural Research Centre (FAL). The JKI carries out research into all areas of cultivated plants, including plant genetics, plant cultivation, plant nutrition, soil science as well as plant protection and plant health.

Julius Kühn © Wikipedia

The Federal Research Institute for Cultivated Plants was named after Professor Julius Kühn (1825 - 1910), who was one of the most outstanding botanists of the 19th century. With his book entitled "Die Krankheiten der Kulturgewächse, ihre Ursachen und ihre Verhütung" (1858), Kühn became one of the most important founders of modern phytopathology. He was the first professor for agriculture at the University of Halle/Saale to introduce agricultural sciences courses and, in 1863, established an independent institute. Over the next forty years, Kühn developed this institute into one of the most important German institutions dealing with agricultural education and research.

Further information:
Julius Kühn Institute
Federal Research Institute for Cultivated Plants
Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof
76833 Siebeldingen

Website address: https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/news/genome-sequencing-of-grapevines-that-are-resistant-to-fungi