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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Jumping Genes and the Color of Grapes, p. 2
PageHead that reads, "Jumping Genes and the Color of Grapes."

We've all seen "red" grapes. (They're really kind of a  reddish-purple.) We've also seen "white" grapes. (Their skins are kind of light green.)

But why are they different colors? Why aren't all grapes red? Or white?

Photograph of ARS researcher Christopher Owens holding grapes.

You can chalk much of that up to what scientists like Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researcher Christopher Owens call a "jumping gene." Owens is a gene scientist in the ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit at Geneva, New York.

Genes carry physical features of plants and animals from parents to their offspring. Owens and researchers with France's National Institute of Agricultural Research in Montpellier, France, recently unlocked some of the secrets about what makes a grape red or white.Photograph of a bunch of red grapes.

Among the important things they discovered was why a gene that's found inside all grapes--it's called (are you ready for this?) VvmybA1--plays such a big role in the color of a grape.Photograph of colorful grapes from the Plant Genetic Resources Unit grape germplasm collection in Geneva, N.Y.

Not too long ago, scientists in Japan found that VvmybA1 helps determine why white grapes turn out white.

Owens and his team showed that it's actually the presence--or absence--of a tiny, movable piece of the VvmybA1 gene that's responsible for a grape's color.

This movable jumping gene is what scientists call a "genetic mutation," or accidental change.

Photograph of color keys and variations in genes.
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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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