Why fine wine companies have viruses to thank

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Fine wine companies choose the very best grapes from the best vines, in order to produce wines of the highest possible standard.

But new research reveals why today's 'best' grapes may well be those that were affected by viruses millions of years ago.

For instance, a team at the University of Queensland have been looking into evidence of 30 million year old viruses in the DNA of pinot noir.

They have discovered that, when a plant like a grapevine is affected by a virus, it switches on certain repair mechanisms.

When these are complete, the viral DNA is sometimes incorporated into that of the vine and its descendants - like hanging on to the positive parts of the virus while flushing out the rest.

Dr Andrew Geering said: "Pulling new genetic material from the environment, such as from viruses that infect the plant, means evolution can be sped up considerably."

This means, even over a period as long as tens of millions of years, grapes like pinot noir may have evolved faster than they otherwise might - leading to the unique DNA makeup of the vines used today by fine wine companies all over the world.