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Discoveries

First grapevine genome suggests ways to improve breeding

GENETICS
A consortium of French and Italian researchers has assembled the first complete genome of the grapevine, an achievement that not only has practical applications for the wine industry but also answers important questions about the evolution of flowering plants. The team sequenced the genome of a grapevine variety related to Pinot Noir. They found that, compared to other flowering plants, grapevines have twice as many of the genes that produce essential oils and other compounds responsible for a wine's characteristic aroma, as well as significantly more of the genes that produce resveratrol, the compound in red wines associated with a variety of health benefits, including anti-aging properties. Having the genome in hand will be especially helpful in developing breeding programs to boost pest resistance without the need to rely on genetic modification technologies, said Jean Weissenbach, one of the study's authors and director of Genoscope, the French national sequencing center. That's especially important given most wine farmers' reluctance to use genetically modified organisms, he said.

BOTTOM LINE: Access to the grapevine genome will help researchers begin targeted breeding programs to produce varieties with desirable traits, such as pest resistance.

CAUTIONS: The grapevine line used in their analysis is a lab variety derived from Pinot Noir, but is not a variety used in cultivation.

WHAT'S NEXT: The researchers plan to identify the specific genes that confer resistance to disease, and to make this information available to grape farmers.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Nature, Aug. 26

JENNIFER CUTRARO

PREGNANCY
Group prenatal care helps reduce risk of preterm delivery

Preterm birth and infant mortality rates in the United States are among the highest in the developed world. A group of researchers, led by Jeannette Ickovics from the Yale School of Public Health, decided to see if there would be any measurable benefit from group prenatal care, in which pregnant women get to spend more time with health care providers, but in groups of eight to 10, rather than one-on-one. Group prenatal care, developed by nurse-midwife Sharon Schindler Rising, has been used since 1995 in more than 100 clinics but is still not widely adopted. Ickovics and colleagues enlisted 1,047 pregnant women between the ages of 14 and 25; 394 received individual medical care and the rest were assigned to group care. Researchers found that women who were in group care had a 33 percent less risk of preterm delivery. This was probably because they saw their doctors more -- for a total of 20 hours through their pregnancies -- and were more aware about potential health problems and reported less stress. They also reported feeling more satisfied and better prepared for delivery and were more likely to initiate breastfeeding than women who did not receive group care. This was all achieved at no additional healthcare costs.

BOTTOM LINE: "Group care is a great way of minimizing the burden on the healthcare system while maximizing benefits to patients," said Ickovics, the study's lead author.

CAUTIONS: The study looked at only young women. Studies on older pregnant women of different races are necessary to establish that this system works across the board.

WHAT'S NEXT: Ickovics' group is looking at the feasibility and cost effectiveness of group prenatal care in 14 community health centers in the New York metropolitan area.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Obstetrics & Gynecology, August.

SENA DESAI GOPAL

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