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Planet Earth

True Blue

By Zach ZorichJuly 24, 2005 5:00 AM

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“Roses are red and violets are blue” has been more of a truism than botanists like to admit. For centuries they have tried to create a blue rose. That challenge has been reinvigorated by the tools that modern genetic engineers command. In November 1990, Discover first reported on efforts by an Australian company called Florigene (then Calgene) to turn roses blue by inserting a pigment-carrying gene from a bacterium. But the research failed to blossom. Undeterred, Florigene took a new approach that Discover reported in April last year, but major obstacles remained. Now, it seems, they’re getting closer. The secret? Florigene researchers had to splice a gene that produces the blue pigment delphinidin into rose DNA and also turn off the rose’s natural red pigment gene. The petals of this new rose are still too acidic to produce the blue color, which leaves the flower an uninspiring pale mauve. Still, the fact that they produced any blue pigment is significant.

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