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by Gabriele Berg

This study was not planned; it was inspired by an extraordinary wine. At the end of a long sampling day in apple orchards in South Africa, my phD student Birgit Wassermann an me together with our colleague Lise Korsten from Pretoria University decided to finish the day with a glass of red wine. Lise was growing up in the Stellenbosch region and originate from a family who established one of the first vineyards there. It was her choice to introduce the DeMorgenzon vineyard to us. This famous mountain vineyard in the Western Cape is really extraordinary. In addition to their focus on biodiversity and sustainable management in the vineyard, they use music to enhance grape health and wine taste. DeMorgenzon believe that music can influence the growth of a vine and the fruit it bears, and they have played Baroque, and early Classical, music to vines in the vineyard, in the winery and in the cellar all day, and every day, since 2009.

The wine was really tasty with a unique terroir. However, we are scientists working on plant health since 25 years, and we were highly skeptical about this unusual management. Due to the fact that we had our sampling equipment with us, and we still had “free space”, we decided to design a sampling strategy to figure out if we can see any difference between plants listening to music and those without. Back in Austria, we were not convinced to continue that small project – like the wine which seems to be tastier during holiday. But we still had “free space” in sequencing lanes, and decided to dare the experiment. Several weeks later we got the DNA sequences and started to assess them. However, before that we looked into the literature and were surprised about all the research, which was going on about the impact of sound vibration on organisms. There is scientific evidence that natural and synthetic sound vibration has an impact on human health but on plants health as well. Plants are responsive towards sound by perception, signal transduction and activating their systemic resistance, which at least resulted in resistance towards plant pathogens. Moreover, novel data provide increasing evidence of molecular mechanisms for sound perception and transduction, improving germination, growth, development, crop yield and increased tolerance to drought stress. Plants respond to the chewing sound of insect larvae, the buzz pollination of bees, and bat-dependent plants evolved acoustic reflectors for the bat echolocation system to attract their pollination partners!  For us, all of this was inspiring information to start our evaluation.

Our study is the first analyzing the impact of sound on any microbiome. Microbiome research is a new, technology-driven field, which open the black box of microbial communities surrounding us. Only 20 years old, it caused already paradigm shifts in our relationship to microorganisms. In contrast to the former opinion, they are ubiquitous and strong workers for health and well-being, while disease outbreaks are often the consequence of wrong management. In the last years, we were confronted with many surprising research results, especially regarding human health. And here, we were again surprised about the impact of music on grapevine-associated microbiota! We used a barcoding approach to identify all bacteria and fungi associated with grape leaves. We found differences between the core microbiome of music-exposed leaves and the control group. Interestingly, music-exposed leaves contain more microorganisms known for plant heath and wine taste!

New microbiome definition

Although this is a small study, results show an as yet unexplored avenue for plant health and the terroir of wine! And we hope that it will inspire researchers, farmers, winemakers and consumers to take alternative path to reduce our ecological food print on Earth!   

What is a microbiome?

See all at: Plant Health and Sound Vibration: Analyzing Implications of the Microbiome in Grape Wine Leaves. Wassermann B, Korsten L, Berg G. Pathogens. 2021 Jan 12;10(1):E63. doi: 10.3390/pathogens10010063. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-0817/10/1/63/htm#

Gabriele Berg studied biology, ecology and biotechnology at the universities in Rostock and Greifswald obtained her Ph.D. in 1995 in microbiology from Rostock University (Germany). In 2005 she became a full professor in environmental biotechnology at Graz University of Technology (Austria). Her interests are focused on research of host-associated microbiomes and translation of the results into new biotechnological concepts for our environment as well as for holobiont health. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, she belongs to the most influential researchers world-wide (top 1%, Clarivate Analytics).

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