In an effort to combat climate change, the Bragato Research Institute in Marlborough has sequenced 6,000 genetic variants of New Zealand’s premier grape variety.

In partnership with Plant & Food Research, the young vines are currently in a nursery and will be planted in a research vineyard in the spring of 2023.

A representative from the institute stated, “New Zealand has 26,559 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc vines, the vast majority of which are genetically identical due to how grapes are propagated.”

Any new insect, disease, or environmental change that affects one vine may affect others.

This was the impetus that led to funding for the seven-year Grapevine Improvement programme, whose aim is to create 12,000 diverse variants of Sauvignon Blanc to help the $2 billion wine industry in New Zealand become more resilient.

“Plants have the natural ability to become more genetically diverse in response to environmental stress,” said Dr. Darrell Lizamore, the principal scientist. “This knowledge was used to create a population of vines with unique characteristics.”

“Because this process does not involve cross-pollination with other vines, the plants remain Sauvignon Blanc, and the new variants are fully formed by the first generation.”

BRI has installed New Zealand’s first high-throughput third-generation sequencer in order to determine precisely how each of these 6,000 variants differs. The ‘PromethION’ sequencer, supplied by Oxford Nanopore technologies, generates long-read data that is essential for comprehending genetic differences among grapevines as well as the environmental influence on a vine’s genetic traits.

By comparing the DNA of various vines using sequencing techniques, the vines can be screened to identify those that possess traits that will assist the New Zealand wine industry in adapting to a changing climate.

According to the researchers, useful traits such as enhanced yield, disease resistance, frost tolerance, and water use efficiency will be selected while preserving the distinctive flavor profile of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

The announcement comes ahead of the annual celebration of Sauvignon Blanc on May 6, a day dedicated to sampling and appreciating Sauvignon Blanc in its many forms.

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