The biggest genetic evaluation of grape varieties so far reveals how ice cycles formed the domestication of grapes and the rise of wine

Peer reviewed publication


In the largest-ever genetic analysis of vine varieties, including samples from previously undocumented specimens in private collections, researchers are providing new insight into how, when and where vines and table vines were domesticated, which has been a long-standing question. “This work represents a major international collaborative effort that is challenging in any circumstance, especially given that we conducted it during the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns,” said author Wei Chen, who also attending an embargoed briefing on this will learn this week.

Although wine and grapes are culturally very important, it has been difficult to confirm when and where wine and table vines were domesticated. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no sufficiently comprehensive genetic sequencing analyzes of grape varieties. As a result, there are several standing hypotheses in the literature that remain uncertain. For example, researchers have hypothesized that the cultivated grapevine (Vitis vinifera) in western Asia had a single domestication from which all vine varieties descended, and that this occurred before the advent of agriculture. They also thought that vines were cultivated before table vines. Now, a study by Yang Dong and colleagues rejects both ideas. Based on extensive examined grapevine genetic data, their report shows that there were two domestication events for the cultivated grapevine in two different locations – western Asia and the Caucasus region – that were separated during the last glacial advance. “Even though they are separated by over 1000 [kilometers]the two domestication processes appear to have occurred simultaneously with a high degree of shared selection signatures on the same genes,” writes Robin Allaby in a related perspective. Additionally, they showed that these domestication events occurred 11,000 years ago — consistent with the advent of agriculture and some 4,000 years later than some studies have shown. The genetic data also indicate that wine and table grapes were cultivated at the same time – not the wine grape first. The authors also identify some genes involved in grape domestication — enhancing flavor, color and texture — that could help winemakers improve wines today and make cultivars more resilient to climate change and other pressures. Among their findings, they discover more about the genetics underlying white grape color and the ancient nutmeg flavor; At least one allele underlying nutmeg flavor can be detrimental to plant health, they say.

To carry out this work, Dong and colleagues generated a high-quality reference genome at the chromosomal level of wild grapevine progenitor Vitis sylvestris. They then sequenced more than 3,000 individual grapevine plant samples collected from wide geographic locations — including wild sites and from private collections. “Our employees have reached out to their connections and searched for ancient and local varieties,” Chen said. “For example, many Armenia [samples] from old vineyards turned out to be undocumented varieties.” The multimedia content associated with this document includes videos from several international collaborators reflecting on the process and significance of the study.

**This paper is in the context of an Annual Meeting Briefing for Science entitled “Largest Genetic Analysis of Grape Varieties Reveals How Ice Cycles Affected Grape Domestication and the Rise of Wine” for record 2nd March at 11:00 a.m. US ET. You can access the briefing virtually here if you are registered for the AAAS Annual Meeting (Please add the briefing link to your calendars).

NOTE: If you are interested and willing to attend this and other briefings at the 2023 Annual Meeting not not registered yet, please do so until March 1st [Register Here. At the Registration Access Code step, please enter PRESS.]**






Dual domestication and origin of traits in grapevine evolution


March 3, 2023

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