Dr. Gavin Kernaghan

Professor, Department of Biology

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Biologist Dr. Gavin Kernaghan is using modern research on fungi to bring new life to the ancient practice of wine making. His work with fungi will help Nova Scotia vintners produce their wine the way it was made generations ago—but with a significantly improved process.

Most of Dr. Gavin Kernaghan’s research focuses on the ecology of fungi and its relationship with plants; evolutionarily they have been closely tied together as a typical pairing and are often studied in tandem.

In two separate studies about fungi in vineyards, Dr. Kernaghan has been helping the Nova Scotia wine industry understand more about local grapes and finding ways for growers to use fewer toxins that pollute the environment.

In his lab he performed DNA sequencing on fungal communities to find ways to use fungi as a way to eliminate the need for an organic chemical or petroleum-based fertilizers in farming.

“If you can get another organism to do that for growers, it’s essentially biocontrol: non-toxic, less damaging, with less runoff,” said Dr. Kernaghan.

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Now in the second year of a five-year study with Agriculture Canada, Dr. Kernaghan’s lab is using a spontaneous fermentation process on grapes donated by eight different vineyards for testing.

Dr. Kernaghan is seeing significantly different speeds of fermentation, from about a week to a month or ore, even when they’re testing the same L’Acadie Blanc grapes common in Nova Scotia. One goal of this research is to make starter cultures to get some of the better local yeasts available to grape growers and wine makers, to simplify the process for local producers.

By avoiding the commercial yeast typically added by wine makers to ferment wine, microbial terroir of the vineyard will come through, creating a flavourful wine unique to the vineyard, region or province.

“You get a niche, your own specific flavour or terroir, that’s what the winemakers are after – something that showcases their location,” said Dr. Kernaghan.

Dr. Kernaghan received grants from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Research Council – Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Visit Dr. Kernaghan’s Faculty Profile