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NZ scientists create 6000 new SB variants to increase environmental resilience

Published:  03 May, 2023

The Bragato Research Institute in Marlborough has sequenced 6,000 genetic variants of New Zealand’s leading grape variety, developed to help tackle climate change.

Undertaken in collaboration with Plant & Food Research, the nascent vines are in a nursery and will be planted in a research vineyard in Spring 2023.

According to a representative from the institute: “New Zealand has 26,559 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc vines and due to the way grapes are propagated, the vast majority of these vines are genetically the same.”

    • Read More: New Zealand – Sauvignon’s next step

As a result, any new pest, disease or environmental change that affects one vine could affect them all.

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

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

“Since this doesn’t involve crossings with other vines, the plants are still Sauvignon Blanc, and the new variants are fully formed at the first generation.”

To understand exactly how each one of those 6,000 variants is different, BRI has installed the first high-throughput third-generation sequencer in New Zealand. The ‘PromethION’ sequencer, supplied by Oxford Nanopore technologies, generates long-read data that is critical for understanding genetic differences among grapevines, as well as the impact that a vine’s environment has on its genetic traits.

By comparing the DNA of different vines using sequencing approaches, the vines can be screened to identify those that exhibit useful traits to help the New Zealand wine industry adapt to a changing climate.

Useful traits such as improved yield, resistance to disease, frost tolerance and water use efficiency will be selected whilst maintaining the iconic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavour profile, according to the researchers.

The news comes ahead of the annual Sauvignon Blanc Day celebration (5 May), a day dedicated to tasting and enjoying Sauvignon Blanc in its many guises.