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A Real Breakthrough For Wine Industry

A group of New Zealand scientists have discovered a biological control agent for Botrytis, one of the international grape growing industry’s main diseases, it was announced today

The biological control agent is a naturally occurring saprophytic fungus, has the potential to solve the international wine industry’s billion dollar challenge when the Botrytis cinerea fungus occurs in humid conditions, causing major damage to grape crops.

The discovery has been made by a team of scientists from HortResearch, jointly funded by the Wine Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Grapegrowers Council, through their joint research arm, Winegrowers of New Zealand and by HortResearch

A special purpose investment company is being formed to raise money to commercialise the discovery, which is to be marketed as Botry-Zen, and a prospectus is expected within weeks. A manufacturing plant is currently being established in Dunedin.

The HortResearch team, consisting of Dr Philip Elmer, Dr Tony Reglinski, Dr Robert Hill and Peter Wood describes the discovery as “a true breakthrough”.

“Bunch rot is a major problem for the wine industry and the disease, also known as grey mould, is arguably the single most important disease problem confronting the international Wine Industry. With mechanical harvesting predominant in the industry infected grapes cannot be separated from healthy ones at the time of harvest.”

“One of the real attractions of Botry-Zen, is that it is completely organic, rather than chemical based, and it controls the Botrytis without affecting the grape. “ Dr Elmer said today.

Winegrowers recognise the importance of biological control of this disease and reducing the industry’s reliance on synthetic fungicides. Winegrowers of New Zealand believes the cost savings just to the local industry will be considerable and immediate. According to Philip Gregan, Executive Officer of Winegrowers of New Zealand, “Bunch rot costs the New Zealand Wine Industry millions of dollars annually in terms of lost crops, control measures and reduced wine quality.”

The research was jointly undertaken by HortResearch and Winegrowers of New Zealand research programme. Rapid progress of the research was facilitated by support from the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology, through Technology New Zealand; Montana Group and Villa Maria.

“Extensive laboratory tests and field trials by HortResearch have now established that the beneficial organism is an effective control agent for Botrytis cinerea. Successful field trials have been undertaken between 1997 and 2001 in selected vineyards in three major New Zealand growing areas, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Marlborough”, said Mr Gregan.

Once the discovery had been scientifically validated by HortResearch, Dunedin based bio-tech company Zenith Technology Corporation Ltd developed a formulation and manufacturing process, and the new product should be in production within a year, according to Zenith executive director Dr Max Shepherd.

Dr Shepherd is a former University of Otago biology Professor, whose company Zenith Products conducts clinical trials and develops, manufactures and markets animal health products.

Ends

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