Trend in Japan Web Japan
Science and Technology
Business and Economy Lifestyle Science and Technology Fashion Arts and Entertainment Sports People
Science & Technology
Scientists Genetically Engineer the Impossible (November 30, 2004)

Blue roses
Blue roses on display in Tokyo (Jiji)
It was announced on June 30 that Suntory and an Australian company, Florigene, had pulled off the feat of genetically engineering the world's first blue rose, something that had long been considered the holy grail of horticulturalists. The team of developers intends to continue efforts to make the roses bluer and also to consider any possible effects on other plants and the environment, with the goal of releasing this new flower commercially in 2007 or 2008.

Adding Blue Genes from Pansies
The rose has a very long history; it was first cultivated by ancient civilizations 5,000 years ago, and more than 25,000 varieties have been produced since then, in such colors as red, pink, white, and yellow. One color that had proved impossible, however, was blue. The pigment that makes some other flowers blue is called delphinidin, but roses lack the genes to produce it.

Focusing on this point, Suntory and its partner began joint development in 1990. First, they took the genes for blueness from blue flowers like petunias, aiming to embed this genetic material in roses and create a blue specimen. Though this method did not succeed with roses, it was found to work on carnations. One of the byproducts of the development process was the commercialization of the world's first blue carnation in 1995, which soon became a popular product. Some 10 million of these flowers were produced around the world in 2003.

The blue rose that was successfully created was made by introducing blue genes extracted from pansies. Differing from previous efforts to produce blue roses through existing hybridization technology, the petals of the roses were altered so that they were composed almost entirely of delphinidin, making it possible to breed varieties more susceptible to hybridization. While the rose is referred to as "blue," its actual color is closer to blueish-purple. Though certain genes are a necessary precondition for producing a blue rose, a flower's color is also dependent on nongenetic factors.

The two companies intend to continue pursuing this line of research, with the goal of engineering a rose with a sky-blue color similar to that of morning glories. They hope to create a product for which a ¥30 billion ($272 million at ¥110 to the dollar) market could develop in the future.

Research Producing Results
Suntory's rival Kirin Brewery Co., meanwhile, has improved on the vital, a small carnation it developed in 1999. The company has created over 20 varieties, including yellow and pink flowers and even some with round petals. Kirin expects sales of these carnations to top ¥10 billion ($90 million) this year, up roughly 300% over 2003.

The National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization has developed basic technology for embedding genes into chrysanthemums at a high efficiency. If this technology is applied, the growing of extraordinary blue and red chrysanthemums may prove to be more than just a dream.

By manipulating genes, it is possible to alter not only a flower's color but also its pattern. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology have pinned down the gene that controls the pattern of carnations. There is also a method of forcefully causing sudden alterations of genes. The research institute Riken is conducting studies aimed at producing new types of flowers by removing DNA from flowers with an ion beam inside an accelerator called a cyclotron. A spokesperson for the institute says, "While it is difficult to create a color to specification, it is possible to alter the genes that create pigment. If blue pigment can be created via gene splicing, it may be possible to strengthen the pigment and make a completely blue flower." In the future, flower varieties produced by genetic manipulation may even outnumber those produced the traditional way.

 Page Top

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

Related articles
(July 26, 2000)
Drop Us a Line
Your Name

What did you think of this article?

It was interesting.
It was boring.

Send this article to a friend

Go TopTrends in Japan Home

Go BackScience & Technology Home