Scientists Just Achieved 'Holy Grail' of Plant Breeding

Japanese team engineers the first blue chrysanthemum
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2017 9:30 AM CDT
Updated Jul 30, 2017 6:33 AM CDT

A development of "great impact" has been made in the world of flowers—specifically among chrysanthemums, which researchers have just turned a true-blue hue for the first time, per Science. The magazine explains that vibrant blue flowers are hard to find in nature—only a few species exist, and others we think are blue are really more purple or violet. Scientists have long tried to manufacture blue versions of flowers, but the complexities of plant pigmentation have stymied them: For a flower to "turn" blue, pigment molecules called anthocyanins have to have just the right amount of sugar or other atoms, and the plant cells have to offer just the right conditions. A Cornell scientist tells Science News that such a flower is the "Holy Grail," while a University of Florida plant biotechnologist says previous efforts have "never worked perfectly."

Until now. In a study published in the Science Advances journal, success came via the work of Naonobu Noda, a plant biologist in Japan who used a double-punch technique to turn a chrysanthemum blue, per the Royal Horticultural Society's color scale. He inserted not one, but two genes into his samples: one from the bluish Canterbury bell flower, another from the butterfly pea. And although his team had anticipated having to add a third, two did the trick, as a color-free component already in the chrysanthemum interacted well with the altered anthocyanin. Per Nature, the scientists say this genetic alteration may also be used on other commercially coveted flowers such as carnations and lilies, though Noda tells NPR we likely won't see these modified blooms in florists anytime soon. (Monsanto wants to make flowers that "bloom on command.")

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