News Stories

Secret of the Blue Rose

Roses come in a wide variety of colors, but that's not enough for some folks?they're determined to create a blue rose. There are plenty of blue flowers in the world, but no one has yet been able to persuade a rose bush to produce blue flowers. But now, using an enzyme found in the human liver, they may be able to genetically engineer one. Flowers which are naturally blue have a pigment called delphinidin. Exactly the right balance of acidity is needed inside the cells of the plant to create the right shade of blue. "The rose is not easy to work with," says rose geneticist David Byrne. "It has no blue pigments and it can't seem to go through the transformation process."

In 1986 an Australian biotech company called Florigene decided to create a blue rose. They've come close, with a lavender-like color, but still haven't succeeded. "It depends on how you describe blue," says researcher John Mason. "This is a very sensitive topic for us and unfortunately I cannot comment further."

Biochemist Peter Guengerich, who is studying the human liver, says, "When we moved the enzyme into bacteria, the bacteria turned blue. It was a complete surprise."

The technique of inserting the liver gene into a rose to create a blue bloom hasn't been perfected yet. "The first time we tried we got blue spots on the stems," Guengerich says. "Those probably aren't going to be too marketable."

Maybe these scientists need to get lucky. Richard Wiseman can show them (and you) how to do it.

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