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Joint Project in Armenia Aims to Study Grape Genomics

A groundbreaking project is poised to pioneer research in the genomics of grape varieties. Professor Hans Binder, a lab leader and the chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Armenian Bioinformatics Institute (ABI) and the managing director at the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioinformatics at the Leipzig University, made this announcement during a press conference in Yerevan. The Binder Lab at ABI, receiving funding from the Science and Technology Foundation of Armenia (FAST) under the ADVANCE grant program, which made it possible to form a team around the project.

Building upon the work of an international group of scientists, led by Kristine Margaryan, the head of the scientific group of plant genomics at the Institute of Molecular Biology of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic, the project aims to delve deeper into the genetics of Armenian grape varieties. In their previous study as part of an international consortium, this team analyzed the genetic code of approximately 6,000 samples of wild and cultivated grapes from various countries, including Armenia. The findings led to a fascinating revelation that viticulture in Armenia may date back not 8,000 but 11,500 years, published in Science.

Dr. Binder explained that this new study could compile a comprehensive full genome analysis of local grape varieties, which would be a groundbreaking achievement on a global scale. While several countries are actively collecting national databases on human genome sequencing to facilitate drug development, no such comprehensive studies have been conducted for grapes.

Currently, grape genetics are studied and classified based on their most distinctive traits, similar to how humans are categorized by characteristics like skin color or eye shape. Each trait in the grape genome has its own distinct segment, and researchers conventionally isolate 25 of these segments from millions of fragments. However, to gain a better understanding of grape properties, such as the accumulation of beneficial substances and resistance to diseases, studying the entire genome is necessary. This vast amount of information expands exponentially when the genetics of individual grape varieties, including dozens cultivated in present-day Armenia alone, and wild grape samples, totaling around the same number, are taken into account.

Previous studies have already demonstrated that certain wild grape varieties exhibit resistance to fungal diseases, including oidium, which commonly affects cultivated grapes. These “health storehouses” of wild vines need to be explored further for the advancement of agriculture.

Transcribing the complete grape genome is a specialized field pursued by only a handful of scientific institutions worldwide, such as the University of Geisenheim in Germany and the University of Bordeaux in France. Professor Binder believes that Armenian specialists have a significant opportunity to join the ranks of these esteemed centers as pioneers in this domain.

Given the vast volume of genetic data, including the information collected by Kristine Markaryan’s team, artificial intelligence (AI) will play a crucial role in analyzing and interpreting the data.

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