July 3, 2009

Genetically modified vines avoid virus

Genetic engineering could make grapevines immune to a common virus that now results in smaller grapes and crop loss, German scientists said.

Modified plants have produced antibodies against Grapevine fanleaf virus, caused by the vine louse, or rust mite, researchers at the Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, in Aachen, said.

These antibodies 'recognize' the viruses and prevent them from spreading in the plant and causing damage, said Dr. Stefan Schillberg, a lead researcher at the institute.

Researchers introduced the antibody gene into soil bacteria, known as agrobacteria, which then acted as a transport to the vine, Schillberg said in a release Friday.

Early laboratory results showed modified plants to be 100 percent resistant to fanleaf virus. The next step involves testing the method on grapevines in fields in hope of reducing the use of pesticides in the long run, Schillberg said.