Researchers have discovered that wine grapes are suffocating from a shortage of oxygen, leading to the cell death in grapes.
A problem as it not only affects the wine industry but also other fruit and post harvest industries, postdoctoral researcher from Charles Sturt University, Zeyu Xiao is working on a solution.
He identified that during ripening, grapes suffer internal oxygen shortage, correlating to changing climates, heat and water access.
“Cell death is associated to the structure on the stem,” Dr Xiao said.
“We have examined the tiny pores called lenticels, located on the stems of the berries, and found these are important pathways for the berries to take up oxygen.
“We think this is important and incorporating this fact of a low oxygen level relates to how the berries ripen.”
Dr Xiao said understanding the changing warming climate is also a factor for the ripening of these berries.
“Berries shrivel before harvest and this is a process related to cell death processes,” he said.
“These are both accelerated by water stress and heat.”
While the physiological cause for cell death in the grape berry is unknown, the oxygen concentration in the berries and the structure of the stem is important to finding an answer.
“Through this research we can do more experiments on other fruits including cherries, blueberries and strawberries, to understand how this knowledge can affect the shelf life of these fruits,” he said.
While there aren’t any solutions at this stage, the NSW Department of Primary Industries principal research scientist, Dr Suzy Rogiers said continuing the research is important to better understanding berries.
“It’s an important ramification not just for the wine industry but also other fruit related industries, especially those requiring post harvest storage,” Dr Rogiers said.
This is a general problem in wine grapes and is not specific to a region.
The study is being conducted through the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, an alliance between the NSW DPI, CSU and the NSW Wine Industry Association.