Given recent changes to our climate, one has to wonder how businesses relying on agriculture and crops will remain afloat with shrinking springs and falls and lengthened summers and winters. As many of us know, certain plants need the temperate conditions of spring or the warm conditions of summer to grow properly.

The World Watch Institute reports that by the year 2050, "...mega-catastrophes, which used to appear every 100 years, are predicted to occur every 25. In the United States alone, the number of weather disasters has increased five-fold over the past three decades. With these losses, insurance costs are expected to skyrocket; some insurance experts expect some single 'worst case' disasters could exceed $100 billion."

A major market affected by climate change is wine-making. Customers of wineries buy wines expecting a certain flavor, coloring, and feel of the wine, but these factors are cultivated based on how and where the grapes are ripened and grown. Unfortunately, the environments in which these grapes are raised can be variable and unpredictable. But customers at wineries are not paying for variability.

In a study of three Italian wineries, researchers at the University of Verona found certain genes in the genetic make-up of grapes that will allow them to adapt to changes in climate.

A genetic predisposition toward adaptability is very important for plants. Plants, unlike animals and humans, cannot seek shelter in the cold or run away from a flood. Instead, they must have the predisposition at the level of DNA, the information that decides what they are capable of, in order to survive unexpected changes to the environment. It is these plants, specifically grapes, that vineyard owners will plant in great numbers because they will survive seasonal climate changes better than other varieties of grapes.

The researchers found that the early stages of grape ripening are most affected by environmental changes. Ripening is the natural process by which fruits becomes flavorful. This natural process cannot be rushed by chemicals or be disturbed by weather, especially in crops like grapes, as it may alter the flavor that would have naturally occurred during the ripening process. Essentially, ripening is most affected by climate change because it takes time and is a precarious process, determined by temperature and sunlight.

Similarly, if the growth stage before ripening is disturbed by variable weather that the plant cannot adapt to, the ripening process may be ruined completely and the fruit will not ripen to the expected flavor.

The findings of this research show that certain grapes, based on the presence of particular genes in their genome, are better adapted to the changing climate and unexpected weather patterns.

Using the findings of this study, grape cultivators can use the grape plants found to withstand changes in weather and be most adaptable, without sacrificing flavor or taste to populate their vineyards, losing less profit in the face of unexpected climate and weather change.

Source: Dal Danto S, Battista Tornielli G, Zenoni S, et al. The plasticity of the grape vine berry transcriptome. Genome Biology. 2013.