Scientists Create World’s First Genetically Engineered Truly Blue Flower

Posted: Jul 28 2017, 12:15pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 28 2017, 12:19pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Create World’s First Genetically Engineered Truly Blue Flower
Genetically engineered blue chrysanthemums. Credit: Naonobu Noda
 

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By adding two genes to a plant, researchers produced blue chrysanthemums

In nature, flowers come in many colors but true blue flowers are a rarity. Over the years, researchers have tried to create flowers with genuine blue hue through artificial means and now they have finally produced the one.

By adding two genes to chyrsanthemums, a team of Japanese researchers have turned these normally pink or reddish flowers into blue colored flowers and these modified chrysanthemums are the first to be verified as 'true blue' by the Royal Horticultural Society.

The novel technique could be applied to many other popular commercial flowers with no natural blue color and it could lead to more exciting results.

“Chrysanthemums, roses, carnations and lilies are major floricultural plants, (but) they do not have blue flower cultivars,” Naonobu Noda, lead-author from Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, told Gizmodo. “None has been able to generate blue flower cultivar by general breeding technique.”

Plants have no natural blue pigments, so there is no direct way of making blue flowers. A flower with blue color can be made by mixing a variety of pigments, molecules or ions. Researchers, including Noda, have been trying to do this for a long time, but it never worked well. These efforts mostly resulted in violet or bluish hues rather than pure blue. The problem lies in identifying the right combination of genes and inserting them into the flower’s genome.

True blue requires complex chemistry, which does not really work by just transplanting an anthocyanin or pigment molecules from a blue flower.

To solve this problem, researchers first put a gene from a bluish flower called the Canterbury bell into a chrysanthemum. The protein in the gene made the bloom appear purple instead of reddish. Then, they added another gene from another plant called butterfly pea. Initially, researchers thought they would need to add more genes to achieve the desired result. But to their surprise, the second gene obtained from butterfly pea plant was enough to grow chrysanthemums with true blue petals. It took Japanese team more than a decade to artificially create a blue flower.

“This is a flower with three parents in effect, coming from the chrysanthemum, butterfly pea and Canterbury bell, which was very difficult and time-consuming to create. Our blue chrysanthemums have a novel and natural blue color, which has been confirmed as true blue,” said Noda.

“This technique could be applied to other plants not possessing blue flower cultivars, for example roses and dahlias.”

Blue flowers are fascinating but only 10 percent of the 280,000 species of flowering plants produce blue flowers.

“This is a really interesting scientific breakthrough, especially given that previous attempts to create true blue flowers have not been terribly successful, said Guy Barter, chief horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society

“True blue flowers are actually pretty rare and we know there is an enthusiastic market for them, as there is for black flowers.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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