2019_01 All Grapes - All Genes
The KIT Botanical Garden is home to a treasure that is unique in the world - a collection of European wild vines (Vitis sylvestris, the ancestor of our cultivated vine), which harbours the entire gene pool still available in Germany. This collection was originally established for conservation purposes: the last wild vines still surviving in the alluvial forests along the Rhine were to be saved and propagated in the Botanical Garden in order to later resettle them to suitable locations and thus protect this highly endangered species from extinction. It later became clear that these wild grapes were tough fellows: they can defend themselves against numerous diseases, including the Esca syndrome, which is progressively spreading as a result of climate change and can devastate a vineayrd at the bloom of its productivity within a few days.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Protection has recognised the importance of this collection and has therefore included it in the National Plan of Plant Genetic Resources, because it can be used to breed new grape varieties that are more resistant and therefore require fewer fungicides. However, our collection has also got international attention. A little over three years ago, the Chinese Academy of Sciences approached us to sequence through this collection. After a contract was signed, the DNA of our wild grapes was sent to China and two years later the sequence data was transferred back. This has now made it possible to draw a comprehensive picture of the evolution of the vine and will continue to reveal numerous facets from the history of our vine. This work has now been published (DOI LINK HERE) in the high-ranking journal Nature Communications.
In the meantime, we have created this GrapeKIT database from this huge amount of genomic data, where you can screen the genotypes in our collection for any gene of interest. This means that we not only have assembled all the wild vines in our Botanical Garden, but also all their genes on our computers, so that we can now determine which of our wild vines is suitable as a breeding partner for any characteristic of interest. This has taken our (as well as those of the entire grapevine community) genetic resources to a new level, and during the years to come we will of course make use extensively of this treasure. We expect therefore that the wild vine collection of the Botanical Garden of KIT will become more and more important also on the international level.
In the meantime, the colletion has been extended by the biodiversity of wild grapes from Armenia that is about to go extinct. These about 70 Armenian vines are also exciting, because the history of viticulture began about 8000 years ago in the Caucasus. We hope for exciting insights into the history of domestication. Our partners in China see it the same way and so, these genomes have been encoded as well and joined the GrapeKIT database.