Grape4vine is a 36-month project involving two research institutions (University of Milan and CREA – Research Centre for Viticulture and Oenology of Conegliano), located in two important Italian winegrowing regions (Lombardy and Veneto). Both grapevine cultivation and the production of wine require the use of a large number of resources, such as water, energy and organic and inorganic products, and produce high amounts of side off-products, such as crop and vinification residuals. Italy, like other European winegrowing countries, uses big amounts of plant protection products, fungicides in particular. In vineyards, fungicide treatments are regularly made to protect the plants from three important diseases: downy and powdery mildew, and grey mold. Together, these diseases are responsible for the application of about twenty fungicidal treatments during a relatively short period (April-September). The Grape4vine project aims at exploiting winegrowing byproducts that would be normally treated as wastes, to produce biotechnological means for controlling downy mildew and grey mold in the circular economy context.

Downy mildew and gray mold

Downy mildew and gray mold are fungal diseases that are controlled in the vineyard by applying 10-12 treatments with fungicides per season. Downy mildew (Picture 1) is caused by the oomycete Plasmopara viticola, a pathogen able to grow only on grapevine tissues, capable of infecting all the green organs of the vine. Gray mold (Picture 2) is caused by the ascomycete Botrytis cinerea, an optional parasite of the vine capable of causing serious production losses following the attack on the bunches.

Picture 1. Downy mildew on leaf.
Picture 2. Gray mold on cluster.

Valorisation of waste

Grape4vine aims to develop sustainable protocols for the transformation of wine production waste (pomace and pruning residues), often treated as waste, into growth substrates for filamentous fungi, yeasts, and plants capable of synthesizing large amounts of dsRNA.

dsRNA as an innovative biological fungicide

dsRNAs are double-stranded RNA molecules capable of inducing RNA interference (RNAi) and silencing selected genes in numerous organisms. Grape4vine aims to silence, through the selection of specific dsRNAs, pathogen or plant genes necessary for infection and thus avoid the onset of plant disease. Specifically, plant genes associated with susceptibility to the agent of downy mildew and genes involved in the development of Botrytis cinerea will be silenced.

Environmental, social, and economic impact

Grape4vine provides for the evaluation of the environmental, social, and economic impact of the entire process of valorization of waste in potential dsRNA fungicides. For this purpose, the techniques related to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Social LCA (SLCA) and Life Cycle Cost assessment (LCC) will be used, also considering the potential market placement of dsRNA-based products.