Transnational research for sustainable pest management in winegrowing

Markus Dürrenberger (NI Lab) welcomes the project partners of the Interreg project Vitifutur from Germany, France, and Switzerland.

The Swiss Nanoscience Institute’s Nano Imaging Lab is a partner in numerous research programs. Sustainable pest management in winegrowing is one of the fields in which the NI Lab’s images are currently making a vital contribution. On June 11, 2018, the NI Lab hosted an event for the participants in the Interreg project Vitifutur in Basel. The Vitifutur project brings together leading Swiss, German and French research institutions to explore innovative strategies for sustainable pest management in winegrowing in the Upper Rhine region.

Climate change, in conjunction with globalization and consumer demand for sustainably produced foodstuffs, is presenting winegrowers with new challenges. On one hand, they are faced with a succession of new pests that are brought in from other countries and are able to flourish as a result of the changing climate; on the other hand, consumers are increasingly concerned about the widespread use of fungicides and pesticides. To illustrate the scale of the problem, sixty percent of the fungicides in the EU are used in winegrowing, but these vineyards make up just five percent of the cultivated area. In the Interreg project Vitifutur, leading research institutions are searching for sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing problems in the Upper Rhine region.

Resistant varieties can reduce the need for fungicides
At the symposium on June 11, the researchers presented some of the project’s preliminary findings. Dr. Günther Buchholz of AlPlanta, in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse (Germany), reported that using resistant grape varieties can reduce the need for pest control treatments by up to 75 percent, depending on the variety and weather conditions. Over the last few years, Buchholz and his team have studied downy mildew infections in a number of grape varieties. Although even the fungus-resistant vines (known as PIWI vines) had to be treated with fungicides in years with extreme weather conditions to prevent infection, the amounts required were significantly lower.

Vines beleaguered by toxin-producing fungi
“Fungi are also responsible for the grapevine trunk disease Esca, which has spread considerably in recent decades,” explained Dr. Hanns-Heinz Kassemeyer of the State Viticultural Institute in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany). He described how this chronic disease can be identified externally on the basis of typical necrotic leaves and dried berries, even though no pests can be found in the leaves and berries themselves.

Nevertheless, infection of the trunk by various fungal species can lead to the death of the vine under certain circumstances. Interestingly, the fungal population of an infected plant does not differ significantly from that of a healthy one. Dr. Peter Nick of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology postulates that it is only when the plant releases a specific signal, which he calls signal of capitulation, that the delicate balance between host and fungi is disturbed. The fungi then begin to produce toxins, damaging the plant further and ultimately killing it. In the lab, Nick’s team treated one of the fungi isolated from the vine trunk with different substances obtained from the grapevine, and identified a candidate substance for the capitulation signal. “It would be of great practical benefit to treat vines in such a way as to prevent accumulation of this substance,” Nick concluded.

Viruses harm grapevines too
Fungal infections are not the only threat faced by grapevines: diseases can also be caused by viruses. To date, 75 species of virus from 30 different genera are known to infect vines.

Participants of the Vitifutur symposium discussed plenty of topics during the postersession and the lab tour.

Dr. Christophe Ritzenthaler of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Strasburg (France) showed how the grapevine fanleaf virus – the most devastating viral disease affecting grapevines, spread by nematodes – can cause huge economic damage. As no virus-resistant variety has yet been found anywhere in the world, the only option left to winegrowers is managing the disease.

Before they can do this, however, the infection must first be detected. Ritzenthaler’s team, working in collaboration with project partner Bioreba AG based in Reinach, has developed a detection method using antibodies. The procedure relies on particular components of antibodies known as nanobodies to identify different viruses.

Nano Imaging Lab proves its worth as a project partner
After the three presentations, which covered the key topics explored in the Vitifutur project, the 30 participants in the symposium were given a tour of the installations of the Nano Imaging Lab (NI Lab) at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. “The NI Lab provides high-resolution, detailed images of surfaces for several project partners, thereby making a decisive contribution to our understanding of the various diseases and the search for sustainable solutions,” said Dr. Markus Dürrenberger of his team’s role in the project, speaking as the event’s host. Even project partners that had not yet collaborated with the NI Lab were impressed by the achievements of the five-person team, and expressed an interest in conducting joint studies.



Vitifutur The Vitifutur project runs from February 2017 to December 2019. The project is overseen by the State Viticultural Institute Baden-Württemberg in Freiburg im Breisgau, and has a budget of around 4 million euros. It is funded under Interreg V – a community initiative of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This program, devoted to funding transnational cooperations, provides around half of the project’s funding together with the Swiss cantons of Aargau, Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt and the Swiss government as part of its New Regional Policy. The other half comes from the research institutions themselves. Besides the SNI, Swiss involvement in the project also includes the company Bioreba AG in Reinach as an associate partner. Practical orientation is provided by the Aargau Winegrowing Association and the Ebenrain Agricultural Center in Sissach.

More information:
Interreg Upper Rhine region
Regio Basiliensis Inter-Cantonal Coordination Office (IKRB), which advises Swiss candidate projects on funding applications and represents the Swiss government and the cantons in the program
Nano Imaging Lab at the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute