Thursday, January 10, 2008

Genetically Modified Pinot Noir?

French and Italian scientists announced in the recent issue of Nature that they have successfully sequenced the genome of Pinot Noir. Why Pinot? Because Pinot Noir is one of the most ancient varieties and is the parent of many other varieties - thus understanding the genome of Pinot Noir allows us to understand the genome of the Vitis vinifera species as a whole.

The main thrust of the research was to help find ways to introduce disease resistance in a GM Pinot Noir - for instance it maybe possible to create a resistant breed of Pinot Noir to Pierce's Disease and other grapevine diseases spread by insect vectors (similar to what has been done with Bt Corn).

More intriguingly for now for Pinot Noir freaks like me is a glimpse into what makes this most beautiful of varieties so special. Pinot Noir was found to have 89 genes that contribute to flavor and aroma. These genes contain the coding to create the enzymes involved in synthesizng the volatile compounds that we pick up as "fruits", "earth", "game" etc. Thus it is theoretically possible that understanding these genes and "tweaking them" could increase enzyme production and potentially make a more flavorful wine.

Seeing as we already have a genetically modified yeast strain, where the genes that control acetate ester (e.g. benzyl acetate is "peachy" and isoamyl acetate is "banana-like") production are over-expressed, resulting in a more fruity wine being vinified, can GM wine be really that far away? How could a Gallo or a Casella resist if given the opportunity?


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