Press Release 007/2023

Genome Research: Origin and Evolution of Vine

International Project Determines the Origin of Grapevine – KIT’s Wild Vine Database Helps Unveil the Genetic Tree – Publication in Science
2023_007_Genomforschung Wiege und Weg des Weins_72dpi
Vines (from the left, grapes of wild vine, table grapes, and grapes for wine production) have accompanied civilizations for thousands of years. A genome project has now determined the origin and evolution of vine. (Photo: Karlheinz Knoch, KIT)

Cultivation and growth of grapevines have strongly influenced European civilizations, but where the grapevine comes from and how it has spread across the globe has been highly disputed so far. In an extensive genome project, researchers from the Chinese Yunnan Agricultural University have determined its origin and evolution from the wild vine to today’s cultivar by analyzing thousands of vine genomes collected along the Silk Road from China to Western Europe. The collection of wild vines of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) played an important role in the above project. The researchers published their findings in Science (VOL 379 ISSUE 6635).

Grapevine is among the world’s oldest crops. 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 on the Rhine river 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. The Chinese symbol for alcohol is derived from Georgian wine jugs, so-called Qevri,“ explains Professor Peter Nick of KIT’s Joseph-Gottlieb Kölreuter Institut for Plant Sciences (JKIP). Nick, who had already cooperated with Chinese researchers in a previous project to determine grapevine genomes, suggested to collect grapevines along the previous Silk Road and to analyze their genomes. 

Most Detailed Model of the Evolution and Domestication of Grapevine So Far

Nick’s idea gave rise to a network of researchers from 16 countries, who contributed not only wild vines and old species from their regions, but also knowledge on their origin and history. Under most difficult circumstances resulting from the global political situation, DNA samples of more than 3500 vines, including more than 1000 wild species, were sent to the State Key Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-Resources of Yunnan Agricultural University. There, the genomes were decoded under the direction of Dr. Wei Chen and the most detailed model of the evolution and domestication of grapevines so far was generated. As a result, a number of new findings have been obtained. Now, the origin of winegrowing can be dated back to earlier than 11,000 B.C. in the South Caucasus. 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 7000 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 B.C. 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. 

KIT’s Collection of Wild Vines Helps Unveil Grapevine Evolution

KIT did not only contribute the idea underlying this genome project, but also its globally unique collection of European wild vines and very old medieval species that had been deemed to be extinct until a few years ago. “Search for the different grapevines was very thrilling,” Nick says. “Many vines came from the Magarach collection on Crimea. After Russian annexation in 2014, Ukrainian researchers fled and are now distributed all over the world, as are the vines.” Nick located his colleagues in Russian-speaking social networks and brought them in contact with the Chinese research team. The genome project does not only shed light on the history of grapevine, but also is relevant to the future, he says. “We have not only documented the entire biodiversity of species, but now possess all the genetic information for more specific use.” Within the Interreg Upper Rhine Project KliWiReSSe, climate resilience genes from wild vines are crossed with presently grown vines to make them more resilient against the impacts of climate change.

Original Publication

Yang Dong, Shengchang Duan, Qiuju Xia, Zhenchang Liang, Xiao Dong, Kristine Margaryan, Mirza Musayev, Svitlana Goryslavets, Goran Zdunić, Pierre-François Bert, Thierry Lacombe, Erika Maul, Peter Nick, Kakha Bitskinashvili, György Dénes Bisztray, Elyashiv Drori, Gabriella De Lorenzis, Jorge Cunha19, Carmen Florentina Popescu, Rosa Arroyo-Garcia, Claire Arnold23, Ali Ergül, Yifan Zhu, Chao Ma, Shufen Wang, Siqi Liu, Liu Tang, Chunping Wang, Dawei Li, Yunbing Pan, Jingxian Li, Ling Yang, Xuzhen, Guisheng Xiang, Zijiang Yang, Baozheng Chen, Zhanwu Dai, Yi Wang, Arsen Arakelyan, Varis Kuliyev, Gennady Spotar, Nabil Girollet10, Serge Delrot, Nathalie Ollat, Patrice This, Cécile Marchal, Gautier Sarah, Valérie Laucou, Roberto Bacilieri, Franco Röckel, Pingyin Guan, Andreas Jung30, Michael Riemann, Levan Ujmajuridze, Tekle Zakalashvili, David Maghradze, Maria Höhn, Gizella Jahnke, Erzsébet Kiss, Tamás Deák, Oshrit Rahimi, Sariel Hübner, Fabrizio Grass, Francesco Mercati, Francesco Sunseri, José Eiras-Dias, Anamaria Mirabela Dumitru, David Carrasco, Alberto Rodriguez-Izquierdo, Gregorio Muñoz, Tamer Uysal3, Cengiz Özer, Kemal Kazan, Meilong Xu, Yunyue Wang, Shusheng Zhu, Jiang Lu, Maoxiang Zhao, Lei Wang, Songtao Jiu, Ying Zhang, Lei Sun, Huanming Yang, Ehud Weiss, Shiping Wang, Youyong Zhu, Shaohua Li, Jun Sheng, Wei Chen: Dual domestications and origin of traits in grapevine evolution, Science 2023, VOL 379 ISSUE 6635

Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 10,000 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,800 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

rli, 06.03.2023

Margarete Lehné
Chief Press Officer (acting)
Phone: +49 721 608-41105
Fax: +49 721 608-43658
presse does-not-exist.kit edu

Contact for this press release:

Regina Link
Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-41158
regina link does-not-exist.kit edu

Video / Audio:

The photo in the best quality available to us may be requested by
presse does-not-exist.kit edu or phone: +49 721 608-41105.