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Plant biotechnologist Alexander Vainstein
The beautiful camellias in the vase really brighten up your room. How many times have you wondered why the room doesn’t smell with a fragrance that matches the camellias’ beauty? If a team of Israeli scientists have their way, however, they may soon leave you with no room to rue.
These researchers claim to have discovered a way to genetically boost the smell of flowers and even introduce scents in those that don’t have any.
The scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have been able to create transgenic petunias and carnations which smell like roses. They have also swapped smells between carnations and petunias, according to a research paper published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
“We’ve found a way of enhancing the scent of a flower (Petunia hybrida) 10-fold and make it emit a scent during day and night — irrespective of the natural rhythm of scent production,” said Alexander Vainstein, the lead scientist at the University’s Institute of Plant Science and Genetics in Agriculture. In addition, they also have devised a way to boost the colour of flowers. The novel ‘biotechnolgical strategy’ to ‘activate scent and colour production’ in flowers could eventually be used to create tastier fruits and vegetables that have turned bland because of repeated cross-breeding and excessive use of pesticides.
“Smell plays an important role in our lives — it influences the way we choose fruit and vegetables, perfumes, and even a partner,” said Vainstein in a statement. “Aromas define not just fragrance but the taste of food, too.”
According to Vainstein, in Nature “flower colour and fragrance are the two main means adopted by plants to attract pollinators (such as bees and beetles), thereby ensuring reproductive success.”
The intensity of a flower’s scent largely depends on factors like the time of day, the plant’s age, crossbreeding and so on. “Many flowers have lost their scent owing to repeated breeding over the years. Recent technological developments — including ours — will help create flowers with an increased scent as well as produce novel scent components in the flowers.”
Such an innovation could not only help create new genetic variability for breeding purposes, but also offer the plant an advantage in survival and to evolve. In other words, the technique will make flowers more fragrant and draw more pollinating insects towards the plant, aiding better reproduction and survival. “The knowledge gained from an understanding of mechanisms leading to floral scent production or emission should provide us with a better insight into Nature’s way of ensuring evolutionary success, as well as with advanced tools for the metabolic engineering of fragrance,” said Vainstein.
However, such genetic engineering may not work as expected, believes Tapas Ghose, a botanist at Bose Institute, Calcutta. “It is difficult to predict whether pollinators will love the novel scent. It can attract pests too,” said Ghose. According to him it is too early to smell success with the genetically modified flower unless there is a prolonged field test along with definitive ecological studies.
Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)