Open Access Research article

Genetic structure in cultivated grapevines is linked to geography and human selection

Roberto Bacilieri1*, Thierry Lacombe12, Loïc Le Cunff3, Manuel Di Vecchi-Staraz1, Valérie Laucou1, Blaise Genna2, Jean-Pierre Péros1, Patrice This1 and Jean-Michel Boursiquot4

Author Affiliations

1 Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, UMR 1334 AGAP Amélioration génétique et adaptation de plantes, équipe DAVEM, 2 Place P. Viala, 34060, Montpellier, France

2 INRA - Domaine de Vassal. Ancienne route de Sète, 34340, Marseillan Plage, France

3 Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin - Unité Mixte Technologique Géno-Vigne, 2 Place P. Viala, 34060, Montpellier, France

4 Montpellier SupAgro, UMR 1334 AGAP Amélioration génétique et adaptation de plantes, équipe DAVEM, 2 Place P. Viala, 34060, Montpellier, France

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-25

Published: 8 February 2013



Grapevine (Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera) is one of the most important and ancient horticultural plants in the world. Domesticated about 8–10,000 years ago in the Eurasian region, grapevine evolved from its wild relative (V. vinifera subsp. sylvestris) into very diverse and heterozygous cultivated forms. In this work we study grapevine genetic structure in a large sample of cultivated varieties, to interpret the wide diversity at morphological and molecular levels and link it to cultivars utilization, putative geographic origin and historical events.


We analyzed the genetic structure of cultivated grapevine using a dataset of 2,096 multi-locus genotypes defined by 20 microsatellite markers. We used the Bayesian approach implemented in the STRUCTURE program and a hierarchical clustering procedure based on Ward’s method to assign individuals to sub-groups. The analysis revealed three main genetic groups defined by human use and geographic origin: a) wine cultivars from western regions, b) wine cultivars from the Balkans and East Europe, and c) a group mainly composed of table grape cultivars from Eastern Mediterranean, Caucasus, Middle and Far East countries. A second structure level revealed two additional groups, a geographic group from the Iberian Peninsula and Maghreb, and a group comprising table grapes of recent origins from Italy and Central Europe. A large number of admixed genotypes were also identified. Structure clusters regrouped together a large proportion of family-related genotypes. In addition, Ward’s method revealed a third level of structure, corresponding either to limited geographic areas, to particular grape use or to family groups created through artificial selection and breeding.


This study provides evidence that the cultivated compartment of Vitis vinifera L. is genetically structured. Genetic relatedness of cultivars has been shaped mostly by human uses, in combination with a geographical effect. The finding of a large portion of admixed genotypes may be the trace of both large human-mediated exchanges between grape-growing regions throughout history and recent breeding.