Monday, November 16, 2009

Japan: Blue roses through gene technology

Since the beginning of November, the world’s first blue rose has been on the market in Japan. With the aid of gene technology, the rose has been modified to produce a blue colour in blossoms. Demand for the rose is expected primarily in Asia.
A blue rose long has been regarded as the holy Grail of flower breeding. Despite intensive efforts, conventional breeding has failed for centuries to produce a blue flower of this type. In roses and related plants, the metabolic pathways have lacked that could lead to the production of blue buds. The application of gene technology has made it possible for the first time to broaden the ‘natural’ colour spectrum of roses.
Australian flower breeding company Florigene, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese Suntory firm for mixing technology and biotechnology. Nonetheless, even with the aid of gene technology, the blue rose remains a difficult goal.
First, the already-existing metabolic pathways for the production of red and orange pigments must be shut down. In order to do so, the relevant key genes are blocked in a process known as gene silencing.
Scientists subsequently inserted a special pansy gene through which a new, appropriate metabolic pathway was established in the rose towards the production of blue pigment. The blue colour itself is derived from an iris gene that also was transferred to the rose plant. The development of this blue rose has taken almost twenty years.
A single Applause rose is expected to cost between two and three thousand yen, i.e. roughly fifteen to twenty euros. Despite this high price, great demand is expected primarily in Asia. In reference to a traditional Chinese fairytale, blue roses are regarded throughout the region as a symbol of love fulfilled. It already is common to present blue-dyed white roses at an event such as a wedding or the celebration of an anniversary.
In order to be marketed in Europe, the genetically modified Applause roses must be approved according to the legal regulations on gene technology. To date, the responsible bureau has received no such application. Genetically modified carnations that stay fresh longer or that display a blue colour derived from a petunia gene have been approved in Europe for years. These flowers also were developed by Florigene.

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