Brock launches national facility for virus-free grapevine plant material

A facility that maintains high-quality, virus-free plant materials and eliminates viruses and other pathogens of concern in grapevines is up and running at Brock University.

The national grapevine germplasm repository project, led by Sudarsana Poojari, Senior Staff Scientist at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), is funded by the Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI), Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN-RCCV) and Brock University.

“With changing climatic conditions and the need for new and agronomically improved grapevine varieties that suit local climatic conditions, it is critical for Ontario’s grape and wine industry to have access to virus-free grapevine material of varieties that are both popular and of regional importance,” says Poojari.

Grapevines are vulnerable to infection from many different types of plant viruses, which are commonly spread in vineyards by planting new vines that have been propagated from infected grapevine material. Some viruses can be spread by certain species of insects in vineyards.

Once a plant virus infects a grapevine, there is no cure, says Poojari. Some plant viruses negatively impact vine performance, reducing yield, fruit quality and over wintering success of the vine.

“It’s important to start with virus-free vines and to maintain them by following the best pest management practices,” he says. “We don’t want to start with virus-infected vines and assume that they will do well in field conditions.”

Poojari’s lab uses a combination of virus detection and elimination methods on grapevines, including, but not limited to, heat therapy, microshoot tip tissue culture therapy and high throughput sequencing (HTS). “This process is proven successful in the certification program and meets the long-term certification standards set by CGCN-RCCV,” he says.

Microshoot tip tissue culture is a virus elimination technique where a tiny part of an apical shoot tip of a vine is cut off and grown under controlled conditions.

HTS is a genomics-based test with the ability to detect all known and unknown viruses in grapevines with high accuracy and reliability. This genomic-based solution would replace more than 30 tests currently being performed on grapevines to look for diseases.

Poojari’s lab adopts the combination of microshoot tip tissue culture therapy and HTS to shorten the time required to generate virus-free grapevine material from about three years to 12 months or less, providing rapid access to valuable new varieties.

In addition, Poojari also collaborates with Professor of Biological Sciences Ping Liang, who is developing a new grapevine genetic test to provide the “true-to-type” of grapevine material, also funded by OGWRI.

Nurseries, wineries or growers seeking to test and certify their new grapevine varieties or clones can submit a request to CGCN-RCCV.

This initiative has provided a tremendous opportunity for CCOVI and Brock University to serve as a backup facility to maintain the National Grapevine Germplasm Repository at the Canadian Food Inspection’s Plant Virus Diagnostic Facility in Saanich, B.C., says Poojari.

Having a ready supply of virus-free material “creates opportunities in domestic and global trading for Canada, benefiting growers, nursery owners, custom propagators and academic researchers in viticultural and breeding programs,” he says.

“Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. is pleased to partner with Brock, CCOVI and CGCN-RCCV on this important new facility,” says OGWRI chair Matthias Oppenlaender.

“Having access to certified virus-free grapevine material is essential for the sustainability of our grape and wine industry and we look forward to continuing to work with our industry partners on critical research and development,” he says.

CGCN-RCCV Chair Hans Buchler says the network is “excited about the development of an additional clean plant repository for the Canadian grape and wine sector.”

“We hope this is a first step toward substantially increasing the availability of virus-tested, second generation propagating material to be used by the certified virus-free Canadian grapevine nursery trade,” he says. “This will be a great contribution to the sustainability and growth of the domestic grape and wine industry.”

In the repository being developed, Poojari and his team are expanding the current supply of around 50 virus-free grapevine varieties through cutting-edge technologies.

This latest research and Brock’s new national grapevine germplasm repository builds on a $6.2-million national research program, co-led by CCOVI, supporting clean plant programs for grapevines.

This national research will enable CGCN-RCCV to fast-track the certification of grapevine planting material as virus-free.

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