Italians claim grape science breakthrough

It might sound like a wild overstatement, but Italian scientists claim to have cracked the life code of the pinot noir grape plant, a breakthrough they say is to change the future of winemaking.

Experts from the San Michele all'Adige Agrarian Institute on Monday unveiled the results of six years of research in which they decoded the plant's genome -- the complex molecular chains that constitute each organism's unique genetic heritage, according to the ANSA news service.

"Today's event is agriculture's equivalent of the first moonwalk," said Riccardo Velasco, head of the team that decoded the DNA sequences. "Agriculture will never be the same again" .

Pinot noir, often known as pinot nero in Italy, is the first fruit and only the second food crop after rice to have its genetic material laid completely bare, ANSA reported.

Francesco Salamini, a former researcher with the Max Planck Institute and a member of the Institute's board, said the advance will lead to benefits for the environment because the information about the plant's gene sets will make it possible to produce new pesticides that protect it better but have less of an impact on the ecosystem.

ANSA said the research shows that the pinot noir genome is spread across 12 chromosomes and is made up of around 500 million bases of DNA. The institute, based in the northern Italian province of Trento, collaborated in the project with the US firm Myriad Genetics Inc., which has taken part in decoding human and rice genomes .

"It's a historic moment," said Mark Skolnick, Myriad's chief scientific officer. "Let's hope that next time we can toast with wine obtained from this research."

Pinot noir is a red grape used by winemakers everywhere. It is somewhat delicate, but is widely considered to produce excellent wines.

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