Herbicide-resistant grape could revive wine industry

October 15th, 2008 - 5:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 15 (IANS) Researchers have developed a new grape named Chancellor, which is resistant to a herbicide that kills off the plant along with the weeds.In 1946, a wonder herbicide called 2, 4-D was introduced, said Robert Skirvin, plant biologist at the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences of Illinois University. “It works really well in corn and wheat and grass crops because it kills the broad leaves, so the grasses are resistant to it, but grapes are incredibly sensitive to it.”

Skirvin said that a hundredth of the amount of 2, 4-D commonly used on corn to kill broad leaves, will kill grapes. Today, more than 50 years after it was introduced, it’s still the third most widely used herbicide in the US.

The discovery of the gene that makes improved Chancellor resistant to 2, 4-D came about by accident. “The US department of agriculture found a soil bacterium that had a gene that breaks down 2, 4-D. Someone noticed that after spilling 2, 4-D on the ground, something in the soil broke it up - metabolised it.

They were looking for something to control pollution and discovered this soil bacterium instead,” said Skirvin, according to an University of Ilinois release.

Skirvin received permission to use the bacterial gene and began in 2002 to transfer it to a grape that would ultimately be resistant to 2, 4-D. He and his graduate student Richard Mulwa followed standard genetic engineering techniques in order to transfer the gene to grape cells.

“Selecting the transformed cells is the most delicate stage of the process because out of hundreds of thousands of cells, there may be only 25 cells that actually contain the gene,” said Skirvin.

“A grape resistant to 2, 4-D would be a huge plus to our industry,” said Kansas grower Rebecca Storey. “As a vineyard and winery owner we have suffered losses from this chemical that runs in the tens of thousands of dollars - not to mention the time and effort to identify the sprayer and prove the damage in a court of law. This grape would be a gift to our industry.”

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