Researcher: Dr John P. Moore - 10 Jun 2016

Fungal pathogens such as Botrytis and the mildews (Powdery and Downy) have negative economic consequences through significant crop losses and reduced wine production in the South African wine industry. Apart from being expensive, chemical pesticide and herbicide usage have a significant environmental impact. Our major wine export market remains the European Union where more stringent health regulations are under constant revision. Clearly, developing strategies to enhance natural plant defence systems is of considerable interest. It is more environmentally friendly and potentially cheaper than reliance on expensive chemical products.

Trying to enhance natural plant defence through approaches such as breeding is very time-consuming. Genetic engineering on the other hand is currently not acceptable to the industry and export markets. Studies have shown that grapevines have evolved natural (innate) defence systems for protection from attack by viral, bacterial, fungal and insect pathogens. These traits might however be poorly represented in the Vitis vinifera cultivars. Through domestication and human selection, specific quality parameters were chosen for selection at the expense of defense and resistance phenotypes. A novel and ‘untapped’ area of study is understanding how plants are ‘primed’ by external biomolecules. Priming allows V. vinifera the ability to respond faster and/or stronger to a potential stress (e.g. an infection; or e.g. drought). Bioprotectants are natural plant products that enhance (prime) disease defence mechanisms in a plant.

The ultimate aims of this study is to understand priming in grapevine plants, to identify natural bioprotectants (especially grapevine-derived) and demonstrate that such biomolecules have potential value for the grape and wine industry. Promising biomolecule preparations could then be taken to further greenhouse and field trials in future projects. This project will show that the industry is involved in implementing environmentally friendly disease prevention strategies to help contribute to developing sustainable winemaking practices.

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