Blue roses were traditionally created by dyeing white roses, since roses lack a gene to produce delphinidin, the primary plant pigment that produces true blue flowers. So-called "blue roses" have been bred by conventional hybridization methods, but the results, such as "Blue Moon" are more accurately described as lilac in color. However, after thirteen years of joint research by an Australian company Florigene, and Japanese company Suntory, a blue rose was created in 2004 using genetic engineering. The delphinidin gene was cloned from the petunia and inserted into a mauve-blend rose, the Old Garden Rose 'Cardinal de Richelieu' (a Rosa gallica). However, since the pigment cyanidin was still present, the rose was more dark burgundy than true blue. Further work on the rose using RNAi technology to depress the production of cyanidin produced a mauve colored flower, with only trace amounts of cyanidin.
Blue roses traditionally signify mystery or attaining the impossible. They are believed to be able to grant the owner youth or grant wishes. This symbolism derives from the rose's meaning in the language of flowers common in Victorian times. In Slavic mythology, one may be granted wishes by bringing a blue rose to Baba Yaga. The Blue Rose was also a symbolist, impressionist influenced art movement in Tsarist Russia in the early 20th Century. Also, according to a Chinese folktale, the blue rose
Molecular geneticists with Florigene and Suntory achieved the prize that had long eluded conventional rose breeders by combining something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
Roses are very old garden subjects – a favourite for some 5,000 years. The 'something blue' was the delphinidin gene that Florigene's geneticists cloned from a pansy, to direct pigment synthesis in the rose into the 'blue' pathway. The 'something borrowed' was an iris gene for an enzyme, DFR, required to complete the delphinidin-synthesis reaction.
And the 'something new' was a man-made gene, designed by Suntory geneticists, that exploited a powerful new CSIRO-developed technology to switch off a rose gene that had frustrated Florigene's efforts to activate the delphinidin pathway in roses for nearly a decade.
Suntory's scientists created the 'silencer' gene to exploit a cellular phenomenon called RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi technology is revolutionizing research and development across the biological and medical sciences, and has been hailed as the most important new research tool to emerge in the past 25 years.
Dr Peter Waterhouse's research team at CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra pioneered the use of RNAi as a high-precision tool for exploring and manipulating gene function in plants.
The Florigene-Suntory rose is doubly historic: although the prototype is pale mauve, it is the first rose in the world with the genetic potential to produce 'true blue' roses, spanning the spectrum from palest blue to Mediterranean blue, or even navy blue.
And as potentially the first commercial plant in the world to exploit RNAi technology, Florigene's blue rose is a harbinger of the extraordinary future of plant breeding in the 21st century.
signified hope against unattainable love. And according to the Yui-Tua peoples of some pacific island groups, the appearance of a blue rose signals the end of times. Breeders have attempted to make true blue roses over many years, but none have successfully bred roses with blue pigment. In its first commercial application in plants, the CSIRO-developed RNAi technology was used to remove the gene encoding the enzyme dihydroflavonol reductase (DFR) in roses.
A truly blue rose has been the Holy Grail of rose breeders since 1840, when the horticultural societies of Britain and Belgium offered a prize of 500,000 francs to the first person to produce a blue rose.
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