New grape is sweet promise for future

“Majesty” a new grape variety grown in FAMU’s own Viticulture Research Vineyard is created by the patented process for one of the largest muscadine grapes on the market.

Majesty is a very large muscadine grape with all the characteristics that consumers crave, according to Jiang Lu, Grape Breeder at the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research. He said researchers are trying to improve the grape variety for consumers.

“We want to get larger fruit, better quality, sweetness, and longer shelf life,” or “put in storage for longer time,” Lu said.

He also said they breed these grapes by selecting the parents with qualities that people enjoy, like firmness, sweetness and crunchy, with edible skin. Stephen Leong, Director of the Center of Viticulture stated that these grapes are all natural unlike most grapes.

“We don’t put any chemicals on them,” Leong said. “This is not for wine, this is just for fresh eating.”

Researchers said that this was a statewide mission to improve the grape variety for the state and southeast area. This project is supported by the state and FAMU.

“Most funds and support come from USDA,” Lu said

He stated that these grapes however, do not have to be USDA approved. The approval comes from farmers, purchasers and state committee meetings.

“Funds are under management of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service (FDACS),” said Lu.

Leong confirmed Lu’s statement regarding funding.

“We get our money from the Grape Growers Association, (FDACS) and Viticulture Trust Fund,” Leong said.

He was proud of the progress on the 7 yearlong research.

“We have about 4 or 500 different muscadine,” Leong said. “I think this one is about one of the best.”

Undergraduates and graduates play a role in the research by helping with breeding and cloning, harvesting fruit, weighing grapes, and keeping records.

Fitz Bradley, 36, FAMU Plant Science graduate of Maypen, Jamaica contributed to the grape research with his thesis on the development of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism marker, also known as SNP.

“We tried identifying SNP markers to use in breeding selection, it was what we anticipated, and instead of growing from seedlings I compare them to see the difference in DNA to identify the one percent difference,” Bradley said.

President James Ammons officially announced FAMU’s first plant variety’s name in October 2007. Lu mentioned FAMU is also in the process of contracting these “Majesty” grapes out to a few nurseries to be sold to farmers.