Renowned botanist Simón de Rojas Clemente is the creator of the world’s oldest herbarium, which is preserved in Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden. It contains specimens that date back to 1807 and includes descriptions of over 100 different varieties of grapes, the bulk of them from Andalusia. Recently, Misión Biológica and INRA-Montpellier teamed up and were able to extract DNA from leaves that are more than 200 years old. Incredibly, they found that the leaves’ DNA corresponds with varieties that are grown today, including Monastrell, Pedro Ximénez and Tempranillo.
The team of researchers drafted two articles: the first, published in Arbor magazine, which is published by CSIC, tells the story of Rojas Clemente and how he published one of the leading works on the world of winemaking, while the second, which was published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, provides an overview of the DNA extraction process. As the herbarium is part of Spain’s national heritage, it must be preserved, with the result that DNA extraction is especially complicated and must be performed using only a centimeter of each leaf. One of the most interesting aspects of this project is the possibility of identifying leaves that have been preserved for over 200 years by extracting their DNA and also learning about the origin of historically autochthonous varieties.