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  • Cornell AgriTech

In her role, Galarneau, grapevine curator at the USDA-ARS located at Cornell AgriTech, is responsible for the acquisition, conservation, characterization, documentation and distribution of the cold-hardy Vitis diversity collection, which has played a critical role in the development of new grape varieties.

What is a germplasm repository and how can it help grape breeders? 

A germplasm repository is, simply put, a library of genetically diverse organisms maintained to be used in research and conservation. My repository is one of two living clonal libraries (vines are propagated clonally, not grown from seeds, as that will not be true-to-type) of grapevine in the National Plant Germplasm System. My collection contains cold-hardy accessions—the term used when a plant is not a true species or cultivar—over half of which are hybrids of two to eight species. The other is in Davis, California, and contains many V. vinifera (wine, table and raisin grape cultivars) and heat-tolerant species.

Breeders use my collection to find traits that they are seeking. My job is to find them material and characterize it so they can utilize the library. Bruce Reisch, a recently retired grapevine breeder here at Cornell AgriTech, called my collection his “candy store.” Breeders seeking new flavors come eat their way through the collection and look for data on fruit quality, colors, skin texture and genetic information tied to those traits. Breeders are also seeking traits for cold hardiness, pathogen tolerance, yield, growth habits and more. I give them what information I have and establish collaborations to help fill in information and genetic gaps.  

What sets the USDA-ARS grape germplasm repository apart from others in the world? 

The USDA-ARS grapevine repositories hold around 5,000 accessions with approximately 1,400 in Geneva and 3,600 in Davis. North America is one of the centers of grapevine diversity, so we hold many accessions of species found throughout the continent, along with some species from Europe and Asia. Both collections hold the history of grapevine cultivar development here in the United States. For example, American species and hybrids are used as rootstocks throughout the world, and we hold the history of that development. Both collections hold old cultivars no longer being planted and pre-breeding material from historical breeding programs in the United States and other countries around the world.

What accessions in the repository do you think are most interesting and why? 

This is like picking a favorite pet … one of the Vitis amurensis accessions I have from China is the first vine to change leaf color in the fall, to a brilliant almost florescent red. A hybrid grape known as Lady Patricia, donated by Herb Barrett of Illinois, is delicious and the berries have an elliptical shape.

I’ve also grown very interested in Vitis labrusca in this job, and the variety of vines just within this species is exciting! The leaves vary in size from twice as large as my head to as small as my hand. 

Share an interesting fact that most people wouldn’t know about the vines you work with. 

Many people do not realize how many species of grapevine there are. I have 20 species of grapevine growing in the field now, while most people have tasted one to two species in their lives (V. vinifera for most table, wine and raisins, and V. labrusca with Concord). Some of my grapes do not look like grapes, for the berries are less than a quarter inch in size and shiny. The vines can grow vertical trying to climb as high as they can, while some want to grow as a shrub or grow along the ground. 

A bonus fact for the nerds is that all of my vines are grown on their own roots. All commercial vineyards, and even the Davis collection, are grown on rootstocks.  

What’s the most impactful finding you have made through your work so far? 

My biggest impact so far is revitalizing the repository, along with the other curators at the site. My ARS unit, the Plant Genetic Resources Unit, has four curators for our crops, and we all started in the past five years. My position was vacant or covered by another curator for many years. I’ve been changing the vineyard trellis system to enable mechanical pruning and altering the training systems to be different depending on the vine’s growth habits (e.g., Vitis rupestris wants to grow as a bush, so I’m adjusting it to  grow as a shrub rather than a trellised vine). I am updating methods and expanding data sets by utilizing high-throughput and digital techniques. I also have worked hard to network within the grapevine breeding community, to build collaborations and inform new grapevine breeders that we’re here to help! 

What do you hope the impact of your work ultimately will be for the wine and grape industry? 

I want the Geneva collection to represent cold-hardy grapevines, especially North American species, that are well characterized and documented to enable high-quality grapevine research, elucidate Vitis species evolution, and help find the trait(s) that will be included in new cultivars.


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