Research spotlight: Dr. Dario Cantu studies the effects of a grapevine's environment

Noble rotted Sémillon berries.

Dr. CantuDr. Cantu's research group uses "big data" genetic and chemical datasets to understand how grapevines interact with their environment and associated microorganisms, including, but not exclusively, those causing economically important diseases. 

Current objectives of Dr. Cantu's research range from developing immunization protocols for protecting vines from Pierce's disease, developing early detection tools for trunk diseases, combining multiple genetic sources to achieve effective and durable genetic resistance to powdery mildew, and developing methods to mitigate the negative impact of disease on fruit quality. 

Recent work from the Cantu lab explained how noble rot modifies grape flavor and aroma by reprogramming grape metabolism during ripening. Their work showed that noble rot induces metabolic processes in white grape berries normally seen only during the ripening of red-skinned grapes. This was a novel observation, because white berries are, in fact, developmental mutants that cannot activate several ripening pathways such as the synthesis of anthocyanins, the molecules that impart the red color in the skin of red grape berries. 

The research also confirmed that the reprogramming of grape metabolism by Botrytis results in the accumulation of key aroma and flavor compounds that make sweet wines made from botrytized grapes so special.