Will the vine sent into space be more resistant to heat and disease?

Faced with global warming, which promises New Aquitaine will experience Seville’s climate within a few years, the vine has been particularly exposed. Changes have been observed that, such as an earlier flowering and harvesting period, an increase in alcohol content … Research programs and experiments are proliferating in an attempt to find a suitable response.

The prize for the most innovative program, and perhaps the most expensive, goes without a doubt to the start-up Space Cargo Unlimited, which tries more and at least to find the solution… in space. On its Wise mission, the Bordeaux start-up actually sent vines to the international space station, in an attempt to create a new variety more resistant to the phenomenon of global warming, or to diseases.

Plants that grow faster

A year and a half after the return to Earth of these plants, the first results of this experiment are “exciting” confides Nicolas Gaume, boss of Space Cargo Unlimited. The Wise mission sent, in November 2019 and in March 2020, 12 bottles of Petrus vintage 2000, then 320 vine plants – 50% merlot and 50% cabernet sauvignon – to the ISS. Shipments were recovered in January 2021, then 320 vine plants were replanted in the greenhouse, to compare their growth with 320 other vine plants left on Earth.

A year and a half later, 320 plants have grown, allowing a new planting campaign at the beginning of 2022 that has yielded “thousands of plants”. Concrete, “we have observed that our plants in space grow faster than the rest of the earth, and that they develop appropriate responses to external aggressions.»

Lack of gravity creates great stress on plants

For example in mold, “a disease we don’t know how to treat, except for the Bordeaux mixture that isn’t perfect”, recalls Nicolas Gaume. “We exposed the leaves of our plants to this disease, with the result: 100% of the terrestrial vine plants died, while most of the plants in the galaxy survived. Then we selected the plants that survived, which we have replanted to see how they evolve. Important detail: “The qualities acquired by plants in space are permanent: it is as if you make a new kind of rose by cutting a few roses.”

How to explain this difference? By gravity, or rather the absence of gravity. The idea of ​​the Wise mission is to effectively expose the vine plants at a certain moment in their development, i.e. at a young age, in this particular spatial environment, as it is deprived of gravity.

“When you remove an element as vital as gravity, it creates a huge emphasis on living organisms, leading nature to find adjustment strategies,” Nicolas Gaume explains. The plant finds natural response mechanisms to survive, and gains flexibility in the face of smaller but nonetheless destructive stresses, such as water or temperature stress, or in the face of pathogens such as mold. »

Make vines “more resistant to disease and climate change”

The start-up Space Cargo Unlimited also indicates that, “compared to controlling the plants left on Earth, more advanced genetic analysis on space vine shoots shows changes in more than 90 genes linked to primary metabolism, and in defense responses to space vine shoots.in Merlot leaves.Space Cargo Unlimited is now awaiting confirmation of these findings during outdoor replanting.

These initial results therefore confirm the goal of the Wise mission, to create vines that are “more resistant to disease and climate change” with, in particular, plants that consume less water. “However, we remain cautious, we are still in the middle of our experiment and we have to wait for the cycle to end” warns Nicolas Gaume.

A new cycle of implantation is really necessary to reach certain conclusions. “For example, we tried mold on the leaves of plants but not on the roots, which we will do this summer, to go further in the experiment.»

We must “determine the taste characteristics of grapes”

It will also be necessary to ascertain the flavor characteristics of the grapes provided by these grape varieties of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the most used in Bordeaux, when heating poses a threat of the use of other varieties. grapes. “We are waiting to have grapes in sufficient quantity, continues Nicolas Gaume, and we don’t think it will happen this year to carry out a vinification, so we will replant next year to make sure it is suitable for making wine. with all the guarantees of health, which we are obsessed with. »

All of these experiments are “very supervised, in certified laboratories and greenhouses under control”, the Space Cargo Unlimited boss insisted. The start-up has a partnership in particular with ISVV, the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences based in Villenave-d’Ornon in the suburbs of Bordeaux, “one of the largest vine and wine research laboratories in the world.»

Another partnership, which will be decisive for the continuation of the project, is the one signed with the Mercier group, “the largest wine nurseryman supplying most of the great castles” underlined Nicolas Gaume. Because it is thanks to him that “we hope to offer our more resistant vines to winegrowers.»

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