COST Action FA1003

Scientific focus

Owing to the recent fast development of powerful molecular genetics and genomics tools, researchers working on long-lived species are advancing their methods for understanding genes’ action and value by means of association genetics. These methods, derived essentially from human genetics, allow replacing the slow standard techniques of studying segregation of characters in single progenies from hand-made pollinations in field experiments, to fast tracking the ancestry of molecular diversity in pools of genetic resources, and to analyzing correlations among gene diversity and expression of the traits in the phenotype. The future of grapevine research and breeding is thus based on the constitution of core collections, drawn from the broadest pool of genetic resources, and the development of genotyping, phenotyping and association genetics methodologies. The research fields of importance for further developing and implementing this strategy are:

(1) Identification and characterization of the existing genetic resources

Genetic resources are defined as the biological material containing useful genetic variation of actual or potential value. To fully explore the potential of genetic resources, the material involved in research and breeding needs to be representative of the entire spectrum of intra-specific variation. Identification and characterization will be pursued by all the partner organisations holding a grapevine living collection. In particular, knowledge needs to be improved by better characterization of the east European genetic resources and by their comparison with the better known west European varieties. This is a research field that builds on existing activities and results. It will consist of comparisons of ampelographic as well as existing or newly obtained molecular marker data allowing identification (solution of synonyms, homonyms and misnaming cases of varieties). Parentage relationships will also be studied.

(2) Development of faster and more precise phenotyping methods

Methods and techniques for phenotyping base characters such as anthocyans, tannins, sugars and acids content are already under development in several institutes. However, the available techniques are time consuming. The Action will, therefore, use the expertise of laboratories specialized in high-throughput technologies so as to make the phenotyping process faster. The methods and techniques used will also be spread to the interested partners so that they could be integrated in their own research programs for phenotyping the characters of greatest interest.

(3) Development of molecular tools for high-throughput genotyping

Several institutes are developing tools for high throughput genotyping such as DNA chips with hundreds (in 2009) or thousands (expected in 2010) of genes per chip. Once ready, collections managers and scientists will find an interest to apply these tools for studying the most interesting and valuable genetic resources from eastern Europe and genotype (analyze) them together with the samples from western Europe. Comparison of genotype profiles among the two groups will certainly add power to the subsequent association genetics studies. In addition, comparing the diversity of hundreds (thousands) of genes will allow to better understand the evolution of grapevine genetic variation along its migration history over Europe.

(4) Establishment of pools of genetic resources with known levels of diversity and ancestry

Once the parentage and ancestry relationships among varieties are known, the next step consists of building sub-samples of genotypes representing the widest diversity available, maximizing the genetic diversity (core collections) and minimizing the ancestry structure among them (association genetics approach). This task will be lead by several labs with experience in that field genepools will be made available to the participants of the Action. This task will empower the project to take initiatives for making these resources available to the larger research community, for example by multiplying and planting the genotypes of interest in chosen accessible sites in various countries. Any transfer of genetic materials will be made in accordance with the relevant international agreements (Convention on Biological Diversity and International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), and complying with the rules established by national laws and policies.

(5) Research of correlations among genotype and phenotype

On the sub-samples built in the previous research field (4), with the genetic data made available in (3) and with the phenotypes made available in (2), it will be possible to start looking for correlations among genes and agronomic traits of interest. The technologies for making such inferences, essentially composed of bio-informatics routine analyses, will be made available to all participants. The transfer of technology will be facilitated and promoted by the corresponding training activities. The five research fields described above will translate into three working groups in the Action, with the development of phenotyping and genotyping methodologies being part of Working Group (WG) 2. The activities on phenotyping of core collections and association genetics will be conducted together as WG 3. In addition, a fourth WG will be dedicated to the development of an overall strategy for the conservation and use of grapevine genetic resources for research and breeding purposes at the European level. With the objective of developing the international network necessary to pursue this strategy, this Action aims to answer a two-way, or reciprocal need. Researchers from different institutes studying grapevine genetics will gain access to the widest possible representative spectrum of genetic resources. Collection managers will obtain an improved knowledge of the genetic value of the resources under their responsibility, which will allow a more efficient use. The scientific programme is formulated to be flexible and open to the international scientific community, since along the duration of the Action it may appear necessary to collaborate closely with additional organizations that can either offer particular genetic resources or specialized scientific knowledge and research capacity.