Daniele Cernilli on Genetic Editing

| Published on DoctorWine N°224
Trend Topic: Genetic editing
by Daniele Cernilli 28-08-2017
Parola d’ordine: cisgenetica editoriale doctowine daniele cernilli
Studies on genetic editing made by professor Attilio Scienza and by the Edmund Mach institute in San MIchele all’Adige oper the path to the creation of vines resistent to diseases. Will this be the future?

Recently, I have been often citing Attilio Scienza and his observations but I do so because I believe they are illuminating for the future of winemaking. For those who do not know who he is, he held the chair for viticulture at the University of Milan for years, was the head of the Istituto Mach di San Michele all’Adige and is the author of many books on both scientific and other subjects. His latest research, carried out at San Michele, dealt with gene or genetic editing, scientifically known also known as cisgenesis, and removing certain genes from a vine DNA in order to create grapes that are resistant to botrytis, above all. If we consider that anti-botrytis treatments represent the majority of those carried out in the vineyard, using these grapes would eliminate a significant percentage of polluting substances. But would this make organic and biodynamic methods useless?

Scienza doesn’t think to. “The birth of agriculture was an act of genetics. Already in the Neolithic Age, man was selecting plants and animals to raise to serve as food. The common trait in innovation is fear. Biodynamic and organic farming seek to preserve natural resources and thus are a response to a fear of losing them but we need to go beyond this. Organic farming is not convincing because it is a dead-end street. We cannot return to the past because this would mean denying the future. It would be like trying to preserve the Ship of Theseus”. Is genetic editing a back door to creating genetically modified organisms (GMO)? Not at all because GMOs are created by inserting foreign genes into the DNA to be modified whereas as genetic editing removes genes from the host. If it were possible to eliminate the gene that causes cancer from a person’s DNA, wouldn’t everyone be in favor of this?

While this may be an extreme and, at present, a hypothetical example it serves to prove a point. In regard to wine, if genetic editing can be used in a way that does affect quality, then it would be possible to eliminate enormous amounts of harmful substances in the vineyard. I am convinced that genetic editing in winegrowing will be the topic of the day in the very near future and it will be interesting to see what positions will be taken by groups like Slow Food or the farmers’ unions Coldiretti and Confagricoltura, not to mention the ministry of agriculture and the European Union. In the wine sector, there will be a confrontation between science and ideology, between believers and deniers, between the future and a nostalgia for a past that, between climate change and limitations on the use of polluting substances, can only remain a distant memory.

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