After thirteen years of research, the consortium Biofrutales developed the first transgenic varieties of table grapes in Chile, which do not require chemicals to be resistant to the main fungi that attack the vines and affect production, such as botrytis and powdery mildew.
To create this grape, which is of the Thompson Seedless type, the consortium bought the rights to the technology to have a platform of genetic transformation, which was later perfected in the country, in the US. It is one of the first experiences in the world, so it will generate big impact, says Rodrigo Cruzat, manager of the consortium that is integrated by institutions such as Fundacion Chile, Inia, Fedefruta, Univiveros, and universities.
From the commercial point of view, Cruzat said they had to be cautious because many markets were resistant to consuming these products. However, he said, Chile is in an advantageous position, since the country has developed a lot of technology for GM research in vines when compared to the US, Europe, or other markets, which have been embroiled in the controversy and invested little. We may be a little ahead, but sooner or later we will have the need to work with GM crops, he says.
Biofrutales hopes to develop GM varieties of stonefruit (peaches and nectarines). To do so, they are patenting an unprecedented platform of genetic modification unlike anything existing in the world. “If someone wants to do genetic research on those fruits, they’ll have to ask for our license,” says Cruzat. The company, which was created to develop more competitive fruit varieties, has allocated $ 3,000 million (public and private resources) between 2006 and 2011 to various breeding programs for vines (61% of the budget), nectarine and cherry trees. Similarly, to date, they have developed two new types of grapes, and are about to finish four other new grape varieties, through conventional breeding (crossing varieties).
The grape is the fruit that Chile produces the most, which is why it has a greater importance than other fruits in the country. As it is widely used, the changes that can be made on it are so subtle that it takes a lot of work to do them, said Cruzat. That’s why we have focused on creating grapes with a better flavor, size, that are seedless, have a good post-harvest so they can be sent to distant markets, and have a cluster structure that reduces the use of labour. Cruzat added that the consortium was just awarded three 10-year projects in InnovaChile and Fondef with $ 5,800 million, which will allow them to give continuity to the projects they are currently developing.