Biotechnology for Grape Improvement

The goal of this research is to produce economically significant genetic improvements in existing grape varieties by using genetic engineering techniques to either 1) add new genes that confer traits such as insect or disease resistance or that enhance specific desirable fermentation or flavor properties, or 2) modify the function of existing genes so as to reduce or eliminate specific fruit components, such as browning enzymes, ethyl carbamate precursors, or seeds. Varietal characteristics other than the ones being deliberately engineered are expected to remain unchanged. We have continued to make progress toward the development of gene transfer technology for grape. We are able to introduce new genes into grape tissues, but have not yet produced whole vines that express new genes. The most successful gene transfer method for other plant species. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of leaf explants, from which the regeneration of transgenic adventitious shoots is subsequently induced, has not been successful with grape. In order to develop better strategies for introducing economically significant genes into existing grape varieties, the cells in leaf explants that give rise to adventitious shoots were identified by histological analysis. The cells in leaf explants that are transformed by Agrobacterium were also identified in order to determine whether transformed cells could contribute to shoot meristems. Very few transformed cells were found in regions of the leaf explant that give rise to shoots, indicating that, although this method might produce occasional transgenic plants, it is unlikely to be a means by which this could be accomplished routinely. Other strategies that have been successfully employed with other plants, including Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of proliferating somatic embryo cultures and transformation of individual somatic embryos from which adventitious shoots can be induced, are now being pursued. A study of the biochemical interaction between grape tissues and several grape-specific Agrobacterium strains that we have isolated from California vineyards is underway in order to determine whether these strains might be engineered to introduce new genes more effectively than the laboratory strains in general use.