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Geneva project explores ways to improve Northeast grape growing

By Matt Hayes

Jason Londo
Jason Londo

A research geneticist at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY is teaming up with researchers from across the country to map genetic traits in grapevine roots in order to uncover the ways genes interact with the environment. The research aims to optimize the productivity and environmental resilience of grapevines, potentially pointing to new ways to improve grape growing in the Northeast. 

Jason Londo, adjunct associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and a geneticist in the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Unit, is collaborating on a joint project focusing on four different climates in the U.S. as part of a five-year, $4.6 million National Science Foundation project.  The portion of the grant awarded to the USDA-ARS during this project is $1.13 million dollars.

Grape rootstock seedlings that are segregated for different factors contributing to leaf color.  Photo by Anne Fennel, co-PI for this NSF project. 

Londo and his collaborators are using grapevine as a research model for understanding the interaction between genes and the environment. Measuring the relative contribution of genetics and the environment has traditionally been difficult because it requires genetically identical individuals in order to discern the effects triggered by climate, soil type and other factors.

For the project, several different experiments have been designed to examine how different rootstock varieties impact cultivated grape scions.  At an experimental vineyard in Geneva, the cultivated hybrid grape ‘Marquette’ will be grafted to 200 different rootstocks from a mapping population. Londo will be measuring how the rootstock influences a suite of important traits for growing grapes in New York, which include cold hardiness, dormancy, nutrient uptake, and plant architecture.

“This research project should provide important information about how much of the grapevine scion can be controlled by the genetic architecture of the rootstock,” Londo said. “By examining the productivity and growth of the grafted scion on these genetically different roots, it should be possible to understand and optimize the productivity and environmental resilience of grapevines.”

Londo said the major goal of the research is mapping genetic traits in the roots and understanding how those traits interact with different environments. Other research sites in California, Missouri and South Dakota will provide baselines in which to compare results with the New York site.

“The threat of climate change has the potential to greatly impact grapevine production in the Northeast by changing precipitation rates and impacting winter weather stability, and this project will help determine how best to optimize growth in an increasingly dynamic climate,” he said.

Londo will be working with researchers from Saint Louis University, University of Missouri, Missouri State University, Danforth Plant Center and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

For more information on this project, please visit the NSF award abstract.

Matt Hayes is managing editor and social media officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.