Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Cell death in grape berries: varietal differences linked to xylem pressure and berry weight loss

Joanne Tilbrook A B and Stephen D. Tyerman A B C

A Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture, PO Box 154, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, University of Adelaide, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Functional Plant Biology 35(3) 173-184
Submitted: 22 November 2007  Accepted: 13 March 2008   Published: 23 April 2008


Some varieties of Vitis vinifera L. can undergo berry weight loss during later stages of ripening. This defines a third phase of development in addition to berry formation and berry expansion. Berry weight loss is due to net water loss, but the component water flows through different pathways have remained obscure. Because of the very negative osmotic potential of the cell sap, the maintenance of semipermeable membranes in the berry is required for the berry to counter xylem and apoplast tensions that may be transferred from the vine. The transfer of tension is determined by the hydraulic connection through the xylem from the berry to the vine, which changes during development. Here we assess the membrane integrity of three varieties of V. vinifera berries (cvv. Shiraz, Chardonnay and Thompson seedless) throughout development using the vitality stains, fluorescein diacetate and propidium iodide, on fresh longitudinal sections of whole berries. We also measured the xylem pressure using a pressure probe connected to the pedicel of detached berries. The wine grapes, Chardonnay and Shiraz, maintained fully vital cells after veraison and during berry expansion, but began to show cell death in the mesocarp and endocarp at or near the time that the berries attain maximum weight. This corresponded to a change in rate of accumulation of solutes in the berry and the beginning of weight loss in Shiraz, but not in Chardonnay. Continuous decline in mesocarp and endocarp cell vitality occurred for both varieties until normal harvest dates. Shiraz grapes classified as high quality and sourced from a different vineyard also showed the same death response at the same time after anthesis, but they displayed a more consistent pattern of pericarp cell death. The table grape, Thompson seedless, showed near to 100% vitality for all cells throughout development and well past normal harvest date, except for berries with noticeable berry collapse that were treated with giberellic acid. The high cell vitality in Thompson seedless berries corresponded to negative xylem pressures that contrasted to the slightly positive pressures for Shiraz and Chardonnay. We hypothesise that two variety dependent strategies exist for grapevine berries late in development: (1) programmed cell death in the pericarp and loss of osmotically competent membranes that requires concomitant reduction in the hydraulic conductance via the xylem to the vine; (2) continued cell vitality and osmotically competent membranes that can allow high hydraulic conductance to the vine.

Additional keywords: berry shrivel, berry weight loss, cell death, grape berry development.


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