Collaborating with genome specialists to protect Canadian wine

Collaborating with genome specialists to protect Canadian wine

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), universities and genome specialists across the country are working together on an important mission: protecting Canada's $9 billion wine and grape industry from imported vine viruses.

We'll spare you the "heard it through the grapevine" jokes and just tell you that even grapevines can get sick. So the Agency is collaborating on a scientific solution that every wine lover will appreciate.

What the CFIA is doing

Through its Sidney Centre for Plant Health, the CFIA is co-leading the CLEan plAnt extractioN SEquencing Diagnostics (CLEANSED) for Clean Grapevines in Canada project. This project will design a new genomics-based test to make sure that imported grapevines are free of harmful viruses. It will support the wine and grape industry in responding to the growing demand for locally produced, high-quality products.

The new CLEANSED project harmonizes testing of new grapevines that are imported, exported and in development for domestic grapevine production. For the first time, comprehensive genetics testing will ensure domestic vine production is clean and growers have access to healthy vines, both for planting new vineyards and replanting in existing ones. The project will expedite the release of virus-free grapevine imports from about 3 years to 12 months or less, making it easier, faster and cheaper for growers to access new grapevine varieties.

Not all vines are created equal

Virus-free (clean) grapevines are essential for producing the quality grapes that wineries need.

Unfortunately, grapevines can become infected with viruses such as grapevine leaf roll disease, fanleaf, rugose wood complex and red blotch. Viruses can hide in vines imported into Canada so it's essential to detect and prevent them from threatening the health of homegrown grapevines.

Managing the health of grapevines is a top priority for the long-term sustainability of Canada's wine and grape industry. Diseases caused by viruses cost grape growers $159 million each year because the vines produce less fruit and much of the yield is rejected by wineries.

The CFIA's world-class facility

The Sidney Centre for Plant Health has been testing imported grapevines to make sure they are healthy and ready for use by Canadian grape growers. The CLEANSED project will revitalize the genomic testing process so it can be incorporated into the standard testing procedures for grapevines.

The genomics-based approach uses high-throughput sequencing (HTS), robotics and bioinformatics tools. It will replace traditional multi-method testing with a single rapid screening test. The project will also help in establishing a modern baseline study of virus distribution in Canadian vineyards and inform the list of Canada's regulated grapevine viruses.

"Preliminary testing of 3,300 samples by the CFIA using the HTS method has been successful," says Mike Rott, Research Scientist from the Molecular Plant Pathogen Research team at the CFIA's Sidney Laboratory. "The project spans 3 and a half years and we expect to see a lot of success before completion."

Partners in grapeness

The CFIA thanks its partners in the CLEANSED project, including:

  • Canadian Grapevine Certification Network
  • Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University
  • University of Victoria
  • Université de Sherbrooke
  • Genome Canada
  • Genome British Columbia
  • Génome Québec
  • Ontario Genomics
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Compute Canada
  • Conseil des vins du Québec
  • Illumina

Through innovative partnerships and solutions like this one, grape growers can be confident their new vines are virus-free so Canadians can continue to enjoy locally-produced, high-quality wine.

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