Marina Filipa Paixão Domingos Lopes
Institution Center: Centro de Biotecnologia dos Açores – Universidade dos Açores (CBA-UAc)
State: ongoing

In the wine-growing areas of the Azores, the combination a unique production system with a genetic heritage established by traditional Azorean grape grapevines such as Verdelho, Arinto dos Açores and Terrantêz do Pico, create a distinctive landscape whose wine products are an asset with increased relevance in the economy, in which enotourism assumes itself as an increasingly relevant vector.

The vine, as a perennial crop propagated vegetatively, favors the accumulation of multiple infections by systemic pathogens (viruses and phytoplasmas, propagated by vectors (insects and nematodes), from infected to healthy plants, with significant economic impact by causing a decrease in qualitative and quantitative parameters of wine products.

Currently, at least, 65 viruses are known to affect this crop, among them are those responsible for the diseases with the greatest impact on viticulture, such as Grapevine fanleaf virus (e.g. GFLV and ArMV), Grapevine leafroll associated virus (GLRaVs), Grapevine fleck virus (GFkV)  and the grapevine rugose wood complex (e.g. GVA and GVB).

Control strategies against viruses are essentially preventive through the implementation of healthy selection measures and certification programs, which limit the presence and spread of the viruses in the propagation material, in accordance with Directive 2005/43/EC of the Commission of June 23rd, European Union, which is regulated at national level by DL 194/2006 of September 27th.

In the last years, a new dynamic in Regional viticulture has emerged, especially on Pico Island, stimulated by investment programs; income programs; establishment of Demarcated Zones; foundation of the Azores Regional Wine Commission and a program to recover the three traditional grape varieties. However, this impetus for restructuring the vineyards based on traditional grape varieties is seriously compromise, by the use of propagation material in a  very poor health condition due to viral infections and therefore compromising the quantity and quality of production. This also induces winegrowers to choose other grape varieties in better sanitary conditions to the detriment of the local ones, as virus free Arinto dos Açores and Terrantêz do Pico are not available in the market and availability for Verdelho does not satisfies demand.

This project will try to answer an emerging need to produce a product with high value-added (virus-free vines), in a mid-term, with scientific, technological and business skills, indispensable to control viral diseases, avoiding losses in agricultural production, the importation of new cultivars from other countries / regions, preserving the traditional germplasm. This will lead to direct and indirect benefits in the regional economy allowing the valorization and the sustainable development of wine products in long term.

The eradication of viruses through plant in vitro culture is the most economical and prophylactic strategy for production of quality plants. In this way, a multidisciplinary approach (annex 1) will be used to produce mother plants of the traditional grape varieties in good phytosanitary conditions, with the following objectives:

  • Establish an in vitro collection of grape clones and rootstocks of traditional Azores vines;
  • Eradicate viruses with greater economic impact from traditional Azorean grape varieties, through in vitro thermotherapy combined with preparation of meristems;
  • Use molecular diagnostic methods to screen for viral infections present in the varieties to be sanitized and to monitor the effectiveness of the sanitation process;
  • Ensure the correct identity of the varieties by identification by molecular markers;
  • Establish an ex vitro collection of sanitized grape varieties and rootstocks that will be a source for the production of vegetative propagation material;
  • Establish guidelines and simplify the process of transferring innovation, knowledge and technology to the business sector to stimulate a nursery activity specialized in viticulture capable of producing propagation material with the highest phytosanitary

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