Cultivation and growth of grapevines have strongly influenced European civilizations, but where the grapevine comes from and how it has spread across the globe has been highly disputed so far.
Cultivation and growth of grapevines have strongly influenced European civilizations, but where the grapevine comes from and how it has spread across the globe has been highly disputed so far. In an extensive genome project, researchers from the Chinese Yunnan Agricultural University have determined its origin and evolution from the wild vine to today’s cultivar by analyzing thousands of vine genomes collected along the Silk Road from China to Western Europe. The collection of wild vines of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) played an important role in the above project. The researchers published their findings in Science (VOL 379 ISSUE 6635).
Grapevine is among the world’s oldest crops. Wine was one of the oldest products traded all around the world. It pushed the exchange of cultures, ideas, and religions. At the end of the Ice Age, grapevine originated from the European wild vine, of which only a few relic populations have survived to date. One of these populations can be found on the Ketsch peninsula on the Rhine river between Karlsruhe and Mannheim. So far, the traces of when and where exactly wild vines were domesticated, of whether grapes for wine production and table grapes have the same origin, and how thousands of vines developed have been hidden in the mist of the prehistoric era. Still, it is clear that grapevine survived partly drastic climate changes and gathered a number of genes from Asia as a result of early human migration movements. “For some years now, it has been known that today’s Silk Road once was a wine road. The Chinese symbol for alcohol is derived from Georgian wine jugs, so-called Qevri,“ explains Professor Peter Nick of KIT’s Joseph-Gottlieb Kölreuter Institut for Plant Sciences (JKIP). Nick, who had already cooperated with Chinese researchers in a previous project to determine grapevine genomes, suggested to collect grapevines along the previous Silk Road and to analyze their genomes.
Most Detailed Model of the Evolution and Domestication of Grapevine So Far
Nick’s idea gave rise to a network of researchers from 16 countries, who contributed not only wild vines and old species from their regions, but also knowledge on their origin and history. Under most difficult circumstances resulting from the global political situation, DNA samples of more than 3500 vines, including more than 1000 wild species, were sent to the State Key Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-Resources of Yunnan Agricultural University. There, the genomes were decoded under the direction of Dr. Wei Chen and the most detailed model of the evolution and domestication of grapevines so far was generated. As a result, a number of new findings have been obtained. Now, the origin of winegrowing can be dated back to earlier than 11,000 B.C. in the South Caucasus. This means that wine is older than bread. Winegrowing technology very quickly spread across the Mediterranean to the west. Within shortest terms, cross-breeding with local wild vines produced a large variety of vines that were reproduced using cuttings. About 7000 years ago in the Middle East, large-berry species developed to table vines.
Read more at Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)
Photo Credit: koreafreund via Pixabay