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Research team from MSU collaborates with VitisGen2 project to create better grape varieties

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The Rock Grape found in the Ozarks region of Missouri and Arkansas is one of the easiest of the native grapes to identify because of its creeping stems, and broad leaves. The plant is usually less than 36 inches tall but it can get taller. It can be quite abundant on undisturbed gravel bars along Ozarks rivers and streams.

SPRINGFIELD — It’s a win for molecular grape breeding. New funding has been approved for a research project that uses genomic technology to create better varieties of grapes faster.

The VitisGen2 project led by Cornell University, is a collaboration of 25 scientists from 11 different institutions, including Missouri State University.
They are working in multidisciplinary teams to create new grape varieties that are more flavorful and sustainable.
The project recently received $6.5 million grant for four years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
  • Dr. Chin-Feng Hwang

    “Our team of researchers is the only one in Missouri working together with other teams across the country to expedite the breeding process of grapes, whose breeding cycle takes between five to eight years,” says Dr. Chin-Feng Hwang, MSU professor of agriculture.

VitisGen2 is based on a model that addresses the whole grape continuum.
  • An economics team examines the benefits of improving grape varieties
  • Geneticists identify molecular markers for important traits in grapes, such as fruit quality and disease resistance
  • Grape breeding scientists develop new grape varieties that incorporate the traits
  • Outreach specialists help industry members and consumers understand the advantages of newly introduced grape varieties
Overall, the goal is to develop high quality grapes at a lower cost and grapes that adapt easily to a range of geographic regions and climates, all with less environmental impact. This work can potentially save millions of dollars a year for the U.S. grape industry, noted Dr. Bruce Reisch, the project’s co-lead and professor of grapevine breeding and genetics at Cornell.
Moving forward, VitisGen2 teams will focus on expanding the use of high-throughput DNA and plant evaluation technology to improve the quality of wine, raisin and table grapes, as well as rootstocks. They will also identify ways to maximize their collective knowledge of genetics to help growers manage current vineyards more effectively.
To get updates about the project, visit the VitisGen website.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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