Tomatoes and Grapes: berry fruits with a (bright) biotech future?

Tomatoes and Grapes are berries that are genetically related and therefore at least partially their developmental pathways leading to a fleshy fruit should share some of the components. In a sense knowledge obtained from the model plant tomato could be useful for grape and conversely the more amenable tomato can be used to test some hypothesis that would be difficult to obtain in grape. Research in my lab and other labs have led to a better understanding of the molecular genetics mechanisms underlying fruit development and ripening in tomato and more specifically those related to metabolite accumulation that may lead to changes in fruit nutritional and flavor composition. This research has involved the use of genetic variability in natural population, but also biparental population and genetically engineered lines that are easy to develop in tomato tomato but not in grape. NGTs also can be easily implemented in tomato to not only speed up the gene-to-trait but also develop new tomato varieties.

Methodological advances in relating deep root activity to whole vine physiology

Full understanding of grapevine responses to variable soil resources requires
assessing the grapevine root system. Grapevine root systems are expansive and examining deep roots (i.e., >40 cm)
is particularly important in conditions where grapevines increase reliance on deep soil resources, such as drought
or plant competition. Traditional methods of assessing roots rely on morphological traits associated specific
functions (e.g., root color, diameter, length), while recent methodological advances allow for estimating root
function more directly (e.g., omics). Yet, the potential of applying refined methods remains underexplored for roots
at deep depths.

NACs intra-family hierarchical transcriptional regulatory network orchestrating grape berry ripening

Considering that global warming is changing berry ripening timing and progression, uncovering the molecular mechanisms and identifying key regulators governing berry ripening could provide important tools in maintaining high quality grapes and wine. NAC (NAM/ATAF/CUC) transcription factors represent an interesting family due to their key role in the developmental processes control, such as fruit-ripening-associated genes expression, and in the regulation of multiple stress responses. Between the 74 NAC family members, we selected 12 of them as putative regulators of berry ripening: NAC01, NAC03, NAC05, NAC11, NAC13, NAC17, NAC18, NAC26, NAC33, NAC37, NAC60 and NAC61.

Molecular characterization of a variegated grapevine mutant cv Bruce’s Sport

Variegation, a frequently observed trait in plants, is characterized by the occurrence of white or discoloured plant tissue. This phenomenon is attributed to genetic mosaicism or chimerism, potentially impacting the epidermal (L1) and subepidermal (L2) cell layers. In grapevine, variegation manifests as white or paler leaf, flower, or berry tissues, often leading to stunted growth and impeded development. Despite its prevalence, variegation in grapevines remains understudied.

Phenotypical impact of a floral somatic mutation in the cultivar Listán Prieto

The accession Criolla Chica Nº2 (CCN2) is catalogued as a floral mutation of cultivar Criolla Chica (synonym for cv. Listán Prieto). Contrary to what is observed in hermaphrodite-cultivated varieties like Criolla Chica, CCN2 exhibits a prevalence of masculinized flowers. Aiming to study the incidence and phenotypical implications of this mutation, CCN2 plants were deeply studied using Criolla Chica ‘Ballista’ (CCBA) as control plants. For each CCN2 plant, two inflorescences per shoot were sampled and segmented into proximal, mid and distal positions, relative to the pedicel. Flowers were observed through magnifying lens and classified according to OIV151 descriptor.

From grapevines to extreme environments … and back?

I performed my PhD in grapevine physiology under the supervision of Dr. H. Medrano, standing in the vineyards from pre-dawn to sunrise during many hot, wet and sunny days with my colleagues J.M.E. and J.B. I also spent many days and nights facing ticks year-round working in Mediterranean macchias with J.Gu. and M.M. Later I was able to supervise PhD students on grapevines – like A.P. and M.T. – and on Mediterranean vegetation – like J.Gal. With the incorporation to the group of M.R.-C. ‘the puzzle’ was completed and, combining the aforementioned studies, we could conclude (more than 20 years ago) things like: (1) stomatal conductance is the best proxy for ‘water stress’ in studies on photosynthesis; (2) steady-state chlorophyll fluorescence retrieves photosynthesis under saturating light; (3) photoinhibition is not a major photosynthetic limitation under water stress; (4) mesophyll conductance instead is; and (5) mesophyll conductance is a major driver of leaf water use efficiency.

Influence of the number of CPPU applications on growth, mineral composition and Bunch Stem Necrosis incidence in table grape clusters

The forchlorfenuron (CPPU) application is recommended in table-grape after fruit-set to boost berry sizing, albeit growers also apply CPPU during pre-flowering with controversial advantages. We examined the effect of single (BBCH 15) and double (BBCH 15 and 57) CPPU applications (2.25 mg/L a.s.) in a commercial vineyard. At each time, 75-100 bunches belonging to 6-9 vines were sprayed, and compared with unsprayed (CTRL). Leaf stomatal conductance (gs), cluster stem diameter and length were measured. At harvest, 25 berries/repetition were sampled for chemical composition, BSN incidence was counted (N° necrotic laterals/10 cm of stem) in 40 bunches/repetition. To test the role of air VPD on mineral composition, at BBCH 77, 50 CTRL clusters were bagged to induce a low VPD.

Effect of ozone application for low-input postharvest dehydration of wine grapes 

The postharvest dehydration of grapes is a traditional practice to obtain wines with unique traits (e.g. sweet, dry/reinforced). The modern facilities (dehydrating rooms) used for this purpose are equipped with systems for artificially controlling the inside environment parameters, to obtain the desired dehydration kinetic and preserve the grapes from grey mold (Botrytis cinerea) infection, However, the conditioning systems are extremely energy-demanding and the identification and practical applications of solutions effective in controlling/reducing the postharvest decay would reduce the costs of the operation of the dehydration facilities. To this end, we explored the potential of ozone-based treatments on harvested grapes and preliminarily tested if the treatment could impact the normal behavior and metabolism of grapes during the traditionally slow dehydration practice.

Effect of different packaging materials on table grape quality preservation during cold storage

During cold storage, grapes undergo changes that affect their visual, mechanical, and organoleptic properties, potentially impacting quality and negatively influencing consumer acceptance. Key parameters include uniform color, crunchiness, and flesh consistency. We evaluated the influence of two distinct packaging methods on the chromatic characteristics, hardness, and pedicel detachment resistance of fourteen new seedless white and red grape varieties during cold storage. These factors are crucial for maintaining the quality of the product and extending its shelf-life. The novel grape varieties were obtained through a breeding program at CREA-VE of Turi, Southern Italy.

Fertilization Lysimeters provide new insights into the needs and impacts of N nutrition on table grape performance and fruit yield and quality

Table grape production requires adequate nitrogen (N) supply to sustain vine performance and obtain high yields. However, excess agricultural N fertilization is a major source of groundwater contamination and air pollution. Therefore, there is a strong need for empirically based precision N fertilization schemes in vineyards, for optimizing grape yield and quality while minimizing their environmental impact.
Our aim was to unequivocally quantify table grape N requirements, elucidate the drivers of daily N uptake, and quantify the relationship between fertigation N levels and vine growth, fruit yield, composition, and quality. For this, forty ‘Early Sweet’ (early-maturing, white) and ‘Crimson seedless’ (late-maturing, red) vines were grown in 500L drainage-lysimeters for 2 fruiting seasons, while subjected to five continuous N fertigation treatments ranging from 10 to 200 ppm.

Key phenolic compounds in the pulp of new red-fleshed table grape hybrids: anthocyanins and flavonols 

The cultivated area of table grapes worldwide has experienced a paramount increase over the last two decades. In this current scenario, traditional varieties are being replaced by new cultivars that prioritize a profitable and sustainable agriculture, while satisfying consumer demands. It is widely recognized that wine varieties, especially those with red berry flesh, are renowned for their high antioxidant capacity and phenolic compounds, which promote health. Recently, this topic has also gained significance in table grape breeding programs.

Implementation of hyperspectral image analysis for evaluating table grape quality on bunch and berry level

Typically, subjective, and visual methods are used by grape growers to assess harvest maturity. These methods may not accurately represent the maturity of an entire vineyard – especially if extensive and representative sampling was not used. New technologies have been investigated for improved harvest management decisions. Spectroscopy methods utilizing the near-infrared region of the light spectrum is one such technology investigated as an alternative to classic methods, particularly the application hyperspectral imaging (HSI) a spectroscopic technique that obtains hundreds of images at different wavelengths collecting spectra data for each pixel in the sample have gained attention in research.

NIR based sensometric approach for consumer preference evaluation

Climate change has had a global impact on grape production, and as a result, developing table grape varieties that can withstand climate-related threats has become a significant goal. However, it is equally important to ensure that these new grape varieties meet the preferences of consumers. To achieve this goal, a procedure has been developed that combines sensory analysis with spectroscopic data collected in the NIR region. Each sample was analyzed using both traditional analytical techniques and non-destructive NIR spectroscopy.

Withering of the ‘Moscato giallo’ grapes under covered space

For the purpose of producing predicate wines in northern part of Croatia, grapes are traditionally left on the vine unpicked. However, grapes on the vine are exposed to unfavorable environmental conditions that affect rapid rotting and attacked by birds. To eliminate the mentioned risks, the grapes can be picked and placed in a protected space (loft, greenhouse, etc.) suitable for drying. This study presents the results of research on withering grapes of the ‘Moscato giallo’ variety in two tretment: sun drying (under covered terrace) and drying in the shade (loft). The following quality parameters were monitored: mass of grapes, sugar concentration, content of total acids, pH, content of organic acids.

Volatile Organic Compound markers of Botrytis cinerea infection in artificially inoculated intact grape berries

The addition of partially dehydrated grapes to enrich must composition for producing complex dry/sweet wines represents a traditional practice in several regions of the world. However, the environmental conditions of dehydration chambers may facilitate the infection of Botrytis cinerea Pers. by promoting disease and provoking large grape losses. B. cinerea attack can induce alterations in the profile of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which could be detected by sensors specifically trained to detect infection/disease-related compounds. These sensors could facilitate the early detection of the infection, consequently allowing to adjust some dehydration parameters.

New biotechnological approaches for a comprehensive characterization of AGL11 and its molecular mechanism underlying seedlessness trait in table grape

In table grapes seedlessness is a crucial breeding target, mainly results from stenospermocarpy, linked to the Thompson Seedless variety. Several studies investigated the genetic control of seedlessness identifying AGL11, a MADS-box transcription factor, as a crucial gene.
We performed a deep investigation of the whole AGL11 gene sequence in a collection of grapevine varieties revealing three different promoter-CDS combinations. By investigating the expression of the three AGL11 alleles and evaluating their ability to activate the promoter region, we show that AGL11 regulates its transcription in a specific promoter-CDS manner. By a multi-AGL11 co-expression analysis we identified a methyl jasmonate esterase, an indole-3-acetate beta-glucosyltransferase, and an isoflavone reductase as top AGL11 candidate targets. In vivo experiments further confirmed AGL11 role in regulating these genes, demonstrating its significant influence in seed development and thus in seedlessness trait.

Melatonin priming retards fungal decay in postharvest table grapes 

Postharvest losses of fruits may reach in some cases 40% in developed countries. This food waste has a significant carbon footprint and makes a major contribution toward greenhouse gas emissions so sustainable postharvest strategies are being investigated.
Melatonin, a well-known mammalian neurohormone, has been investigated as a priming agent to slow down fungal decay progression in postharvest climacteric and some non-climacteric fruits. However, the molecular and metabolic mechanisms responsible for such enhancement of disease tolerance are largely unknown.

Screening table grape cultivars using cell wall ELISA and glycan microarrays for berry firmness and quality parameters

The crunchy texture of table grapes is one of the key quality parameters during production. This varies from cultivar to cultivar, stage of harvest and vineyard performance. Cell wall properties are key drivers of berry quality (e.g., pericarp firmness and intactness) at harvest and beyond. Common practise amongst producers is to continuously monitor firmness by evaluating pericarp appearance of cross-sectioned berries prior to harvest. These qualitative methods can be quite arbitrary and imprecise in their execution, but more quantitative, yet simple and high-throughput methods to evaluate these cell wall polymers are not yet readily available.

Application of Hyper Spectral Imaging for early detection of rachis browning in table grapes

Rachis browning is a common abiotic stress that occurs during postharvest storage, leading to a decrease in commercial value of table grapes and resulting in significant economic losses. Its early detection could enable the implementation of preventive strategies. In this report, we show the feasibility of a non-destructive early detection of browning based on Hyper Spectral Imaging (HSI). Furthermore, rachis samples were subjected to transcriptomic analysis to understand putative pathways causing differences in browning within varieties.

Enhancing table grape production: addressing challenges and opportunities for sustainability and quality improvement

Table grapes, being consumed as fresh, raisins, and transformed products are among the most appreciated fruits worldwide. Its popularity is increasing also due to its organoleptic and nutritional qualities that meet the consumers’ interest in healthier foods. Recent data from International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) revealed that table grape production has doubled in the last twenty years, and varietal availability has increased thanks to the several breeding programs.
To maintain the socio-economic impact of this sector, new challenges need to be addressed.