Whether speaking about fungal diseases, pests, climate change or quality of the wine: grapevine breeding substantially contributes to solving these upcoming problems and tasks.
Domestic grapevines especially suffer from fungal diseases which were introduced from northern America approximately 150 years ago. In order to prevent loss of quality or yield, these diseases requires regular and thorough plant protection measures. However, there exist wild grapevines originating from other parts of the world, which exhibit resistant characteristics to these fungal diseases. These vines are barely damaged by these diseases or show no signs of damage at all. Admittedly, their major drawback is low yield and they hardly provide enjoyable wines.
To overcome this issue, breeding is applied: the final goal is the combination of the positive yield and quality traits of traditional varieties with the resistances of wild grapevines. Therefore wild and cultured varieties are crossbred. The resulting seedlings are subsequently checked for their traits, mainly for the resistance characteristics and the quality of the wine.
In Germany, this work started around 90 years ago and has proved to be lengthy. On one hand this is due to the perennial nature of the grapevine, on the other hand due to the fact that multiple backcrossings are needed for an improvement of the wine quality.
In recent years enormous insight into the genetics of the grapevine was gained and this provided new and highly efficient tools for grapevine breeders. A constantly increasing amount of important traits is now linked to genomic regions, and their inheritance can be monitored by using molecular markers. This way it is possible to easily select combinations of different traits, e.g. resistances. Marker-assisted selection (MAS) is not only leading to a higher level of resistance, but also to an increased stability of resistance. And as MAS can be applied in an early stage of seedling development, breeding of a new cultivar is substantially accelerated, too.
Apart from breeding new grapevine varieties with long-lasting resistances to the most important fungal diseases, the Institute is also engaged in questions concerning climate change. Here, the aim is to develop grapevine varieties which are better adapted to the changing climatic conditions.