6,000 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Variants – Bragato Institute

6,000 new variants of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to help the wine industry adapt to a changing climate – New Zealand has 26,559 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc vines and due to the way grapes are propagated, the vast majority of these vines are genetically the same. That means that any new pest, disease or environmental change that affects one vine could affect them all.

Bragato Research Institute and its partners have begun an innovative seven-year Grapevine Improvement programme to produce 12,000 diverse variants of Sauvignon Blanc to help New Zealand’s $2 billion wine industry become more resilient. This growing season, the programme has produced 6,000 new variants of Sauvignon Blanc, created with programme partners, Plant & Food Research.

These plantlets are in a nursery and will be planted in a research vineyard in Spring. “Plants have the natural ability to become more genetically diverse in response to environmental stress, and this knowledge was used to produce a population of vines with unique traits,” says Principal Scientist Dr Darrell Lizamore. “Since this doesn’t involve crossings with other vines, the plants are still Sauvignon Blanc, and the new variants are fully formed at the first generation.”

To rapidly understand exactly how each one of those 6,000 variants is different, BRI has installed the first high-throughput third-generation sequencer in New Zealand. The ‘PromethION’ sequencer, supplied by Oxford Nanopore technologies, generates long-read data that is critical for understanding genetic differences among grapevines, as well as the impact that a vine’s environment has on its genetic traits.

By comparing the DNA of different vines using sequencing approaches, the vines can be screened to identify those that exhibit useful traits to help the New Zealand wine industry adapt to a changing climate. Useful traits such as improved yield, resistance to disease, frost tolerance and water use efficiency will be selected whilst maintaining the iconic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavour profile.

The Sauvignon Blanc Grapevine Improvement Programme is the New Zealand wine industry’s largest research programme. Programme partners will invest $18.7 million over seven years. New Zealand Winegrowers has committed up to $6 million in levy funds; the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund is contributing $7.5 million; more than 20 wine industry members are directly funding at least $2 million, and an additional estimated $3.2 million in-kind contributions.

The PromethION genome sequencer offers users high-output, high-throughput sequencing of RNA and DNA. It’s being used here in New Zealand as part of a collaboration between Bragato Research Institute, Lincoln University, REANNZ and New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) and is available as a service to other organisations. Images of Bragato Research Institute are available to download here.

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