COST Action FA1003

Objectives of the Action

The main objective of the Action is to ensure improved knowledge of grapevine genetic diversity, which is essential for its long-term conservation and sustainable use. The Action will strengthen scientific excellence through the creation of a new interdisciplinary network, based on nationally funded activities. The Action will bridge the actual gap that exists between the west and east European scientific communities working on grapevine genetics and breeding. It will lead to completing the characterization and improved availability of research knowledge on grapevine genetic resources from the Caucasus region and other countries in eastern Europe and at the same time empower the scientists from east European countries to participate, develop and share the results of innovative approaches of modern genetics. The scientific impact will, therefore, have a lasting effect on grapevine research integration, as well as breeding, viticulture and wine making.

Secondary Objectives

The specific objectives of the Action are to:
- analyze and share available information on grapevine genetic resources research (characterization, evaluation);
- conduct identification and molecular characterization (fingerprinting) of most valuable genetic resources specifically from the Caucasus region and other east European countries and compare them to the pool of the already known genetic resources;
- improve the understanding of the evolution of grapevine genepool and its migration history from Asia Minor to Europe;
- develop common advanced research standards;
- develop phenotyping methodology;
- establish core collections and conduct association genetics studies for correlations between genetic diversity and important traits such as resistance and berry quality;
- develop a strategy with defined priorities for action for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of grapevine genetic resources.

How will the objectives be achieved?

The objectives of this COST Action will be achieved through the systematic organization, the effective functioning of the selected group of researchers and, most importantly, the interactive nature of the individual responses, as described in detail below. It should be emphasized that the group of partners has been set up in such a way to ensure that the contributions of its members form an integral part of the main focus of this Action. Through the Action, regular meetings, workshops and reports will be organized for the consortium to exchange updated data and information. Since the description of standards and the possibility of young researchers to learn and acquire knowledge on state-of-the-art analytical procedures is an important part of this Action, direct scientific exchange between participants in the form of Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSMs) will be actively promoted.

Benefits of the Action

The Action will bring together researchers from several fields, from collection managers typically specialized in ampelography, identification and characterization of genetic resources, to scientists working with advanced genetic methods for mobilizing the genetic diversity for breeding. The Action will offer benefits not only for the research and breeding community, but also for viticulture and wine making at large, as well as for European agriculture, the environment and for wider socio-economic development. Cooperation will add synergistic effects and innovations to viticulture by allowing the use of valuable grapevine genetic resources for future generations, in view of unexpected challenges such as climate change. The Action will facilitate the development of more resistant varieties thus enriching and diversifying the quality of grape and wine production for the benefit of consumers.

Benefits to the scientific community

The international network that the Action aims at establishing will respond to a reciprocal need that has been long recognized by the scientific community. Researchers from different institutes and countries studying grapevine genetics will gain access to the widest possible representative spectrum of genetic resources. Collections managers will obtain an improved knowledge of the genetic value of the resources under their management, which will allow them to facilitate their use in a more effective way. In the medium term, this will ensure an improved understanding of the genetic value of the resources, empowering a better conservation and “valorization”, as well as making available the biological research material (germplasm) and the advanced research tools needed for scientific excellence. Furthermore, this Action aims at defining a standard approach in the study of the genetic resources of grapevine by comparing the analysis results of different research teams working on the same group of entries. The definition of standards allows the comparison and thus dissemination of results between the different participants at an initial level and between the participants and the entire research community at a second level.

Benefits for modern viticulture

To remain productive and competitive, modern viticulture in Europe has to tackle three main concerns: innovation, quality and environmental protection. Due to the recent market evolution and trends, grapevine growers and wine producers at all levels need to have enhanced access to diversified resources, enabling them to create new varieties, new tastes, products and brands. This Action aims at the characterization of grapevine germplasm and will be accomplished in collaboration with wine growers and professional organizations as key stakeholder groups, ensuring that their demands in terms of characterization and use of traits are taken into account. Similarly, to face the world market competition, grapevine growers need to be able to certify their products in terms of name, quality and genetic and geographic origin. The work envisaged on true-to-type identification in this Action will allow growers to be certain about the value of their products and will facilitate registration of varieties.

Benefits for European agriculture

Results of this Action will increase the knowledge of the genetic diversity of traditional varieties and thus provide a tangible contribution towards sustainable conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity in production systems. In accordance with the EC Biodiversity Strategy and the Biodiversity Action Plan for Agriculture (2001), the research outcomes and recommendations will have implications on policies and socio-economic measures to preserve agricultural biodiversity. It will also be relevant for the implementation of the EC Regulation on conservation varieties in agriculture, and especially for the regulations on the protection of traditional regional products or schemes for certification of origin.

Benefits for consumers and the environment

Viticulture in Europe currently relies on the continuous production of pest and disease resistant plant material produced in different countries. Private or public breeding programmes and nurseries need to rely on source material - genetic resources that harbour genes for resistance. Local genetic material found in the Caucasus region and other east European countries is considered to be very important because it is presumed to contain genetic information that may be responsible for natural resistance to pests and diseases affecting grapevine production. The research undertaken in this Action will ultimately enable incorporation of resistance genes into future plant material. In consequence, this will reduce the need for using pesticides and will make grapevine cultivation more environment-friendly. The demand for organic products is increasing in Europe, as are concerns regarding environmental and health protection. The research community involved in this Action shares the objective of creating more resistant varieties, thus decreasing the use of chemical pesticides and protecting the natural resources. Continued search for more resistant varieties must be based on broad and well known genetic resources. Additional benefits for consumers are associated with increasing quality of information and public awareness of the origin of the final products.

Benefits for sustainable livelihoods and for development (contributions to the Millenium Development Goals)

The research knowledge obtained through this Action can be incorporated into the current efforts towards promoting sustainable development in the Caucasus region and other east European countries, especially when combined with other types of knowledge, such as ethnobotany, and considered in the wider framework of traditional agricultural systems. Despite the uniqueness of local grapevine diversity, which offers a potential for diversified production of high quality typical wines and raisins, the Caucasus region is characterized by the cultivation of very few cultivars, with a tendency to plant foreign material, hardly suitable to the local environmental conditions. During the Soviet time, the agricultural policy was aiming at the standardization of the production with homogeneous industrial varieties. Although this policy was not favourable to the maintenance of grapevine diversity, local varieties continued to be grown on a number of small farms. Despite efforts to halt plant genetic erosion in the region, the situation has further deteriorated in recent years, because the current socio-economic situation of the rural population has often been accompanied with the abandonment of vineyards. Information about the value of local germplasm along with supportive policies and socio-economic measures will significantly contribute to sustainable livelihoods in the eastern part of the distribution range of grapevine in Europe in future. The proposer will seek to incorporate the knowledge generated by the Action into the broader international research-for-development efforts ongoing in the region. The proposer and the consortium are also committed to mobilizing additional resources in order to ensure the full involvement of partners from the Caucasus and other non-COST countries into the Action.

Target groups/end users

The following stakeholder groups are considered to be key target end users of the Action:
- Scientists from a wide range of disciplines involved in grapevine research (genetics and genomics, plant physiology, ecology, conservation biology);
- Genebank and collection managers;
- Public and private breeding organizations;
- Policy makers at national, European Union and international levels;
- Viticulturists, farmers, winemaking associations;
- Consumer associations;
- Nature protection agencies;
- Development cooperation agencies.