Got Concord in the refrigerator, Pinot in the wine rack, or Thompson Seedless in the fruit bowl? These familiar grape varieties will be making room for the next generation of improved grapes, with a boost from two grants totaling $4.5 million.

The projects, one led by Cornell grape breeder Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulture, and the other by senior Extension associate Tim Martinson, take complementary approaches to a common problem: how to make grape breeding more efficient, since new grape varieties can take more than 20 years to breed and evaluate and much longer to reach commercial success. The projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI).

"We are focusing on developing wine, juice, table and raisin grapes with three attributes: fruit quality, cold hardiness and resistance to powdery mildew, a fungal pathogen that is costly to control," said Reisch.

Reisch is working with 24 scientists at all six publicly funded U.S. grape breeding programs on a $2 million project to streamline genomewide DNA analysis and trait-screening methods to more efficiently identify promising progeny.

His project team also includes Cornell plant pathologists, enologists, scientists with the USDA-Agricultural research Service in Geneva and Ithaca; and experts with Cornell's Life Sciences Core Laboratories for genomics and computation biology.

The linking of DNA markers to specific traits -- such as an undesirable grassy aroma or a highly desirable disease resistance -- will make breeding for complex traits more efficient. It will also allow breeders to develop varieties with enhanced disease resistance based on multiple resistance genes, which Reisch hopes will satisfy consumers and growers interested in organic or sustainable production.