Though many flowers come in a bluish color, few are truly blue. Genetic engineering, however, can turn even the reddest roses into the bluest ones.
Scientists have managed to genetically modify chrysanthemum flowers to produce truly blue petals. Naturally occurring blue flowers are rare, and some “blue” flowers are actually more purplish in hue. Chrysanthemum flowers, meanwhile, come in colors like yellow, pink, and red. However, blue is decidedly not one of the chrysanthemum's many colors.
Naonobu Noda, a researcher at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Japan, has been working on producing a true blue chrysanthemum for years. A number of other scientists have been making the same attempts as well, but to no avail.
Noda, however, hit the jackpot. He came close to producing a blue flower back in 2013, when he added a gene from the Canterbury bells flower into chrysanthemum DNA. The Canterbury bells flower is naturally blue, and the gene it lent produced a violet chrysanthemum.
Thus, Noda came close, but didn't quite get there yet. He figured that he might have to add more genes into the mix to get to a true blue. However, he was surprised to find that he needed just one more gene. Noda and his team borrowed a gene from the butterfly pea plant, which has naturally blue flowers. They found that the two genes they borrowed were able to alter a pigment that gives flowers their color.
This pigment, anthocyanin, can give flowers a blue, violet, or red color. Each color arises depending on the structure of the plant's anthocyanin. The genes from the Canterbury bells flower and the butterfly pea plant then changed the anthocyanin's molecular structure. After this, the modified anthocyanin interacted with flavone glucoside compounds in the flower. The result of all these interactions was a true blue chrysanthemum flower.
Genetic engineering was thus successful in creating the world's first artificially—but truly—blue flowers. These findings won't just be beneficial for those who want blue flowers for aesthetic reasons. Scientists can now also look into more sustainable ways of producing dyes and pigments. The study can also allow scientists to better understand the chemistry of true blue flowers.
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