VitisGen Extension

Launched in 2011, with a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (NIFA-SCRI), VitisGen is a 5-year project that brings together 25 scientists from 11 different institutions across the United States. Their shared goal is to accelerate the development of the next generation of grapes.

"Vitis" is the Latin word for vine and is the genus name of all grapevines. Among the different species of grapevines, some originate from Eur-Asia (Old World) and others from the Americas (New World). Grapevines originating in the Americas (e.g Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia) have strong resistance to pests and diseases, however they tend to produce grapes that are less viable commercially with regard to taste and aroma. Grapevines with European origins (Vitis vinifera) produce more commercially desirable grapes, but they are often susceptible to pests and disease. For centuries, grape breeding programs have sought to cultivate better grapes by combining beneficial traits from different varieties. To do this, plant breeders establish new "crosses" which may result from the pairing of two varieties of the same species (vinifera x vinifera—for example, crossing Cabernet Franc with Sauvignon Blanc to create Cabernet Sauvignon), or combine two different species of grapes (vinifera x labrusca—for example, crossing Thompson Seedless with Concord gave us Thomcord). By pairing two different species, a new variety can result that has advantageous traits from both (e.g. pest resistance and favorable taste). Unfortunately, it can take decades to develop and release a new grape variety, and it can take even longer for consumers to recognize and accept a new variety.

VitisGen marks an important advance in traditional breeding programs. It will accelerate the development of new grape varieties with advantageous qualities, while also incorporating consumer preferences. In consultation with both the public and private sectors, VitisGen identified three priority traits to focus on: resistance to powdery mildew, increased low temperature tolerance and fruit quality. VitisGen will identify molecular markers that will help grape breeders to select grapevines favoring the priority traits to utilize in traditional crosses. VitisGen will make use of new, enhanced technology that will decrease the time, effort, cost and space necessary for developing new grapevines, while also providing grape breeders with significant information about the grapevines in their programs. VitisGen could lead to a new grape variety that tastes a lot like Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling, but is highly resistant to powdery mildew, the most important (and expensive) fungal pest of grapes. Such a variety would be good news for farmers, consumers and the environment.

VitisGen helps to remove much of the guesswork that has impeded traditional breeding programs, while maintaining traditional breeding, reducing costs and increasing favorable outcomes. Through the collaboration of four distinct teams, VitisGen seeks to align the priorities of grape breeding projects with the needs of the grape producers and consumers. The Trait Economics team surveys consumers and industry to identify the tangible costs of current grape practices (e.g., damage by pests and environmental factors) and the ultimate benefits of improved grape varieties develop through VitisGen. Geneticists will identify molecular markers for important traits and utilize them to identify advantageous breeding crosses. The Breeding team will develop and maintain grape varieties with advantageous traits. The Extension team then communicates progress and results of this work to back to the industry and general consumers. The work of each team informs and enhances that of the others, resulting in an innovative integration of the needs of multiple interests into a single outcome will result in novel grape varieties that are beneficial to producers, processors and consumers.

Click here to view the VitisGen Breeding Crosses video.

To learn more about Grape Extension and Outreach programs please go to the following websites: and

Funding for VitisGen "Accelerating grape cultivar improvement via phenotyping centers and next generation markers" is provided by a Specialty Crop Research Initiative Competitive Grant, Award No. 2011-51181-30635, of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This site is hosted at Cornell University. Copyright © 2015.