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New Study Sheds Light on Origins and Domestication of Grapevines

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Humans have extensively shaped animals and plants through domestication. Although wine and table grapes have been important culturally for thousands of years, their origin has been difficult to pinpoint because of uneven sampling of modern cultivars. In new research, geneticists from Yunnan Agricultural University and elsewhere analyzed genetic data from 3,525 cultivated and wild grape varieties from around the world.

Dong et al. elucidate grapevine evolution and domestication histories with 3,525 cultivated and wild accessions worldwide: in the Pleistocene, harsh climate drove the separation of wild grape ecotypes caused by continuous habitat fragmentation; then, domestication occurred concurrently about 11,000 years ago in Western Asia and the Caucasus to yield table and wine grapevines; the Western Asia domesticates dispersed into Europe with early farmers, introgressed with ancient wild western ecotypes, and subsequently diversified along human migration trails into muscat and unique western wine grape ancestries by the Late Neolithic. Image credit: Dong et al., doi: 10.1126/science.add8655.

“Grapevine is among the world’s oldest crops,” said Professor Peter Nick, a researcher in the Joseph-Gottlieb Kölreuter Institut for Plant Sciences at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and his colleagues.

“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 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,” Professor Nick said.

“The Chinese symbol for alcohol is derived from Georgian wine jugs, so-called Qevri.”

In their research, Professor Nick and co-authors analyzed DNA samples of 3,525 vines, including more than 1,000 wild species, from around the world.

They then generated the most detailed model of the evolution and domestication of grapevines so far.

“Now, the origin of winegrowing (viticulture) can be dated back to earlier than 11,000 BCE in the South Caucasus,” they said.

“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 7,000 years ago in the Middle East, large-berry species developed to table vines.”

“Domestication was accompanied by climatic changes, i.e. the end of the Ice Age, as well as by the warm and moist Atlantic, a climate period between 8000 and 4000 BCE.”

“The resulting human migration movements left their traces in the genome of the vines.”

“Medieval vines in Southwest Germany, for instance, contain genes of vines from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.”

The findings appear in the journal Science.


Yang Dong et al. 2023. Dual domestications and origin of traits in grapevine evolution. Science 379 (6635): 892-901; doi: 10.1126/science.add8655

Source : Breaking Science News

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