New findings could change how agriculture scientists approach grapevine disease in a rapidly warming climate.

A recent study by researchers at UC Davis and the University of California revealed that certain genes in wild grapes can prevent the spread of Xylella fastidiosa bacteria (more commonly known as Pierce’s Disease), according to a joint university press release. While this bacterium affects a number of agricultural crops — including citrus, olives, and coffee — its impact is particularly devastating for grapevines.

The study’s findings were recently published in the academic journal Communications Biology.

Researchers discovered a variety of wild grape, V. arizonica, is naturally resistant to Xylella fastidiosa. Genes associated with this grape variety are primarily found in warm locations, the study also revealed, which might point to the spread of disease in high-temperature climates. The group then used genetic mapping to isolate specific genes that provide resistance to this particular strain of bacteria. It’s anticipated that these resistance genes could be incorporated into domesticated varieties across the world.

As climate change slowly warms the globe — at an estimated increase of 0.15 to 0.20 degrees Celsius per decade — preventing Pierce’s Disease is especially vital in warm climates.

“This study highlights the importance of scientific research in addressing the challenges posed by climate change and plant pathogens,” professor and research lead Brandon Gaut says. “Understanding the genetic basis of resistance and the influence of climate on disease prevalence is crucial for developing effective strategies to protect our crops and ensure food security.”

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