Discovery shows wine grapes gasping for breath

Discovery shows wine grapes gasping for breath

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TINY TOUCH: A miniature oxygen probe measuring oxygen in a Shiraz grape.

TINY TOUCH: A miniature oxygen probe measuring oxygen in a Shiraz grape.

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Aussie researchers have found wine grapes suffer internal oxygen shortage during ripening.

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GRAPE growers might need to take a deep breath when they learn their produce needs to do the same. 

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered how grapes “breathe”. They’ve also found that a shortage of oxygen leads to cell death in the grape.

The discovery raises questions about the impacts on grape and wine quality, and flavour and vine management, and may lead to new ways of selecting varieties for warming climates.

University of Adelaide’s Waite campus chair of viticulture, Professor Steve Tyerman and PhD student, Zeyu Xiao, from the University’s Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production identified that during ripening, grapes suffer internal oxygen shortage. 

Professor Tyerman said the cell death phenomenon was discovered in 2008, and that it could be implicated where there were problems with ripening. 

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“We’ve since been trying to establish what causes cell death,” Professor Tyerman said. 

“Although there were hints that oxygen was involved, until now we’ve not known of the role of oxygen and how it enters the berry.”

The research was in collaboration with Dr Victor Sadras, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), and Dr Suzy Rogiers, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the researchers describe how grape berries suffer internal oxygen shortage during ripening.  

With the use of a miniature oxygen measuring probe – the first time this has been done in grapes – they compared oxygen profiles across the flesh inside grapes of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Ruby Seedless table grape.

We also used micro X-ray computed tomography (CT) to show that air canals connect the inside of the berry with the small pores on the berry stem. - Zeyu Xiao

They found that the level of oxygen shortage closely correlated with cell death within the grapes. 

Respiration measurements indicated that this would be made worse by high temperatures during ripening – expected to happen more frequently with global warming.

"By manipulating oxygen supply we discovered that small pores on the surface of the berry stem were vital for oxygen supply, and if they were blocked this caused increased cell death within the berry of Chardonnay, essentially suffocating the berry,” Mr Xiao said.

“We also used micro X-ray computed tomography (CT) to show that air canals connect the inside of the berry with the small pores on the berry stem.

WITHIN: X-ray micro computer tomography (CT) of the inside of a single grape berry showing the air spaces and air canals.

WITHIN: X-ray micro computer tomography (CT) of the inside of a single grape berry showing the air spaces and air canals.

"Shiraz has a much smaller area of these oxygen pores on the berry stem which probably accounts for its greater sensitivity to temperature and higher degree of cell death within the berry.”

Director of the University of Adelaide’s ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, Professor Vladimir Jiranek, said the breakthrough on how grapes breathe will provide the basis for further research into berry quality and cultivar selection for adapting viticulture to a warming climate.

The study was supported by the Australian Government's Industrial Transformation Research Program with support from Wine Australia and industry partners.

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