Brock University has a leading role in a collaborative effort worth $6.2-million, seeking to create Canada’s first clean vine stock program and turn virus-free vines out to market in a timelier manner.
At the centre of it all, is “high-throughput sequencing” (HTS) technology.
Replacing over 30 individual tests, HTS provides a one-stop-shop approach to checking vines for viruses and disease by using genetic sequencing.
Through the Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program, the initiative — also known as Clean Plant Extraction Sequencing Diagnostics — has industry, government and academic partners from Canada’s four wine regions contributing.
Sudarsana Poojari, a senior research scientist with Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), is leading a team from the academic side.
The Institute is one of the locations where HTS will be performed, said Tim Kenyon, Brock’s vice president of research.
Brock’s participation as a partner university continues a long-standing partnership with Canada’s grape and wine industry, said Kenyon, and will help provide solutions to a “very serious problem” with spreading viruses in grape vines.
Red blotch disease and leafroll virus are predominate in the Niagara area, with a significant amount of tested grape vines found to be infected, according to Bill Schenck, vice chair of the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN-RCCV).
“The viruses have been around for quite a number of years now, but it has been in the last couple years, through the different growing conditions that we’ve been experiencing with climate change, where we’re seeing the viruses express themselves more,” Schenck said.
The viruses affect the vines themselves — reducing yield and hurting grape sugar potential — but not the wine produced, so consumers need not fret.
Schenck said if an afflicted vine isn’t removed, “it will eventually kill itself.”
Growers then have to replace vines without knowing if the replacements are actually virus-free.
Schenck is hoping the project will set a global standard of practise and open doors for exporting Canadian vines.
“What we’re trying to do is develop our own clean stock here in Canada, and currently there is no certified program that’s accepted by the industry for clean stock on grapevines,” Schenck said.
Eventually, growers would be able to purchase clean stock from nurseries certified by the CGCN-RCCV.
Though it will likely be a couple of years before the industry begins seeing results of the program, it's still a far cry from upwards of seven years needed to clear a vine stock now.
“This project has been a long time in the making … For this all to come together at this point in time is very, very exciting and I think it only bodes well for the future of our industry,” Schenck said.
Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week