Ancient grape DNA

Thanks to a collaboration with the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, the Trace and Environmental DNA Laboratory, Curtin University in Perth, and archeologists across Europe, Armenia and Israel, IGA has compared modern grape varieties with ancient DNA recovered from a collection of grape pips and specimens from archeological sites across Eurasia, dating ca. 4000 BC–1500 AD.

Specimens from medieval times excavated in the Western Europe belong to the three most frequent chlorotypes A, C, and D found in modern varieties of the same geographical area. Vice versa, specimens predating medieval times do not show evidence of the A chlorotype, the most frequent chlorotype in undomesticated grape populations that survived until the present in Western Europe. Roman-age seeds excavated from the Colosseum have the chlorotype D. Chlorotype D is prevalent in modern varieties from the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Near East. Two specimens from the southeastern tip of the Italian peninsula do not have an exact counterpart in modern chlorotypes  The specimen dating 7th-9th century AD is closely related to modern chlorotype C. The specimen dating 4th-2nd century BC has a chlorotype ancestral to modern chlorotype D. All this evidence is compatible with westward spread of eastern varieties and introgression of wild western grapes.

The nuclear genome has even greater promise to compare individual archeological specimens against modern varieties, disclosing their genetic affiliations. We are excited by this look into the past.

Wales N et al (2016) The limits and potential of paleogenomic techniques for reconstructing grapevine domestication. Journal of Archaeological Science 72:57-70