Finally, this Science-thing is Getting Somewhere: Pinot Noir Genome Sequenced

Italian researchers this week announced the completion of the genome sequence of the pinot noir grape, something that I find sort of interesting.

When you talk to oenophiles about the qualities of different wines, of course the variety of grape matters, but what really seems to be important to have an extra special vintage is the particulars (and perhaps particulates) of the soil its grown in, the amount of rainfall, the way any irrigation water is handled, the degree and intensity of the sunlight, etc. (Things that in general have little to do with the plants genetic make-up.)

So just like in the never-ending humanities debate, this really comes down to a question of nature vs nurture.  That is, can understanding the genetic make-up of a plant help us understand how it grows and how we can influence it?

Probably, but humans have been influencing the genetic composition of animals and plants for thousands of years – its called selective breeding.  Sweeter corn, meatier pigs, colors of tulips, dog-breed characteristics – we’ve been doing it a long time and we'd gotten pretty good at it long before anyone had a clue that anything HAD a genome.

I think what spooks some folks is that now people (and by “people” I clearly mean mad-scientist types) have the chance to produce changes in a single generation that may have taken hundreds of years to select properly (if ever).   The wine-genome advocates suggest that genetic modification (GM) of grapes could produce better and more consistent flavor.  Also, it might allow for more disease and infestation resistant crops, which would cut down on the amount of pesticides required and allow grapes to be grown in regions where they are not currently viable.

So, here’s the can of worms opened: Would you drink a GM-wine?

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13 thoughts on “Finally, this Science-thing is Getting Somewhere: Pinot Noir Genome Sequenced

  1. Very cool! I'm with HapaLove … I wouldn't want GM to be my only choice .. but I definetly would be open to it. We saw something the other night on TV about GM (ish) diamonds … just diamonds grown in the lab vs. mined … you honestly couldn't tell the difference between them and the mother nature ones … and they cost about 1/3rd of the price. That's something I can get behind!

  2. I would drink it. The wine itself for the most part would likely be no different than that from a a non-GM grape.
    I would wonder, though, if GM-grapevines would all be identical, like clones. I don't know that much about winemaking, but I'm thinking that here and there throughout a vineyard there are probably mutant plants. Those mutants may produce a grape that adds a certain characteristic to a batch of wine, which gives it uniqueness. I guess what I'm trying to say is that although IMO a great vintage is probably more nurture than nature, I'd hate to see the nature part homogenized too much. It would take a lot of the fun out of drinking wine.
    Now I want a glass.

  3. Hapa — I'm with you and erin and 8gurl — I would definitely give them a try. I'd be very curious about them. But in the end, it would still end up being the taste vs price decision that I make on any wine.

  4. Mello — one of the things I didn't mention (because its super-nerdy) is that the individual chromosomes of the grape were very different. Most grape vines are grafted from one plant onto another, so there's a fair amount of swapping. The differences in chromosomes (one from each parent) are much more different in the grape than in any human. I wonder if THAT (the chomosome/allele differences) is something that is important in giving certain grapes really unique flavor. Any GM-grape would have to account for that I think. I'd hate to get a wine that was really bland.

  5. Ok – I think I'm somewhat of a closet romantic when it comes to this kind of stuff. I'm sure I'd try a GM wine (though for some reason I keep imagining a wine-production-line at General Motors….go AWAY scary image!).
    However, there is something appealing about knowing the history & location (the overall legend or culture behind a wine) – something about the wonder of knowing that the best wines are the result of hard work, strategy, years of labor…and then fortuitous conditions. That might sound cheesey…but I'm like that with my tea as well (much more so with my tea, actually). I'm not sure I'd truly be able to 'savor' it (GM wine) emotionally as much as the "real" thing.

  6. Sure, I'd drink it (If I drank..)
    But I wonder, you know so many times a very good year comes from different conditions…I wonder if GM would sort of "Bland out" the quality so that it was consistent but nothing stands out or is really horrible. That would be a shame…

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