Genetically Modified Flowers That Can Smell Like Anything

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genetically modified roses

David Clark at UF Gainesville has found the genes that give flowers their smell.

Ever wanted a rose that smelled like bananas? Maybe a petunia that reeked of root beer? Researchers at the University of Florida Gainesville have isolated 13 genes in flowers that key for the blossom’s fragrance. These same genes hold the secrets to improving the tastes of some fruits. According to a news release from UF and an interview in Discovery News, these scientists have already started work on tastier tomatoes, and their first crop of petunias that smell like roses are scheduled to blossom this summer. The genetic modification of flowers for scent was detailed in Plant Journal as well as Phytochemistry, and could herald a new era of designer blossoms. Imagine going to a florist and asking for roses that smelled like bacon. By discovering the genes that code for scent, these scientists have opened the door to genetically modified plants that smell and taste better than ever before.

When you select for one trait, you tend to sacrifice others. The race to breed better blossoms over the past fifty years has improved size and beauty at the cost of scent. The same holds true for food crops – fruit and veggies are getting bigger, but they aren’t getting tastier. Even projects that take advantage of genetic modification typically only focus on resistance to parasites and improved yield. The University of Florida work, headed by David Clark, was itself focused on improving pollination by increasing the lifespan of petunia petals. Discovering the dozen or so fragrance genes was an accidental find – they’ve examined more than 8000 such genes over the past decade.

According to the UF news release, Clark and his colleagues are first looking to restore the “lost” fragrances of many flowers that have been breed for other characteristics in the last century. Eventually, however, the same genes that could return a flower to its ancestral scent could also be used to create entirely artificial smells. Flowers can be made to smell like other species, other foods, maybe even inorganic compounds. The implications extend outside of the florist shop. Perhaps flowers that smelled strongest whenever there were too many heavy metals in the water supply? As genetic modification finds its way into blossoms, these plants could move from ornamentation to practical applications. GM has its down side, but you can bet that discoveries like this one are leading to a better (smelling) future.

[image credit: Tyler Jones, University of Florida]

Discussion — 23 Responses

  • Ishmael February 24, 2010 on 8:16 pm

    Ah marvelous. so instead of smell being an indicator of quality perhaps or even providing clues as to the viability of the food, we can now make unripe, nutritionally worthless food smell even better than their natural counterparts! Hurray for progress! Now we can transport unripend tasteless food on slowboats from China without worrying about spoilage or consumer acceptance!! As I said. Marvelous.

  • adsaenz February 24, 2010 on 11:21 pm

    @Ishmael
    I understand your concerns, but I think the time when we could rely on our five senses to indicate the (nutritional) quality of produce in a market actually passed us by years ago.

  • Flowers February 25, 2010 on 9:39 am

    I am not about genetically modified flwers but beautiful flowers are One of the best things to me is nature. That is why I believe that I enjoy flowers so much. Flowers, with all of their wonderful
    scents.

  • David February 25, 2010 on 3:30 pm

    Just about every flower in any flower bed you can find has been genetically modified for looks through breeding, if not direct modification. A lot of time if you trace the original natural plant, its flowers aren't near as beautiful as the one modified by human ingenuity and technology.

  • Rowadanr February 25, 2010 on 6:40 pm

    Quite so, and it applies to a lot of other facets of nature as well (trees, dogs, horses and almost-but-not-quite all landscapes spring to mind). I'm very much a naturalist, but I'm sceptical of shying away from modification of nature for fear of destroying it. To repair the planet's ecological damages past this stage, we're essentially going to have to re-terraform it. You don't get much more artificial than that

  • Lucy Lonsdale February 26, 2010 on 4:49 pm

    It would be really nice if we could solve the problem of more than 1 billion people going to bed hungry each night. But hey…….

  • Edith February 27, 2010 on 1:08 pm

    NO, I NEVER wanted a rose that smells like bananas or anything else. I love the smell of roses and would prefer it smell its unique natural self. Nature is beautiful as is and don't mess with it because it can be a bitch when you push it the wrong way.

    • ellanutella598 Edith October 16, 2014 on 1:03 pm

      WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE

  • Ted February 27, 2010 on 9:03 pm

    This scientist is not doing a service to mankind but rather a great dis-service. God created all things to work together in harmony. Nature itself was set up to not affect animals or mankind in an adverse way. Now man is tinkering with the laws of nature that God has put into place and the consequences are going to be devastating both to humans and animals and yes plant life as well. It of course will be too late as usual before people realize what is going on and the damage will be done. Hooray for renegade anything goes scientific experiments.

  • Ted February 27, 2010 on 9:07 pm

    That is the most ridiculous statement I have heard today – congratulations! Since when do shoppers stop smelling or handling fruit to check if something is ripe or not. Our God given sense of smell is a good thing to warn people of rancid food which could be dangerous if eaten. Just posting a comment for comment sake is foolish -

  • David February 27, 2010 on 9:19 pm

    Ted, ever buy fruit, bread, milk, meat, flowers, eggs, vegetables, cloths made of cotton or wool, owned a pet dog or cat? Then you have enjoyed the benefits of “tinkering with the laws of nature”, because all of those items or animals have been modified from their original, natural forms to one extent or another. Unless you get naked and go run off to the wilds and live off the land, your likely to suffer the frustrating life of a hypocrite the rest of your days. The main difference between gm and breeding traits is that gm is much more precise and gets us more exactly what we want, but they are both tinkering. Tinkering is great, I love tinkering with nature, its why my son and wife are alive today and didn't die in childbirth. It's why I have clothes and nutritious food in abundance and too many other blessings to count. There is nothing more natural for human beings then tinkering with nature.

  • Te February 28, 2010 on 1:50 am

    David obviously you have the mind of a child and thereby you need a better explanation. tinkering for the sake of tinkering in order to fix a pickup truck can be rewarding in simply that man has an inherant creative ability and therefore enjoy's improving, fixing, tinkering in order to bring about an even better outcome or simply for a hobby to see what is possible. Tinkering with the same pickup truck by mounting a flame thrower on it just to see what it would be like and how it would operate is absolutely crazy as this can potentially pose great dangers to the public. This actually did happen a couple of years ago and the government caught wind of it and arrested the person. When tinkering with the structures of living creatures and wildlife a scientist must be quite prudent and careful as there are things both seen and unforeseen that could go wrong and thereby cause great calamity. Crossing the DNA of humans and animals to create new life which is currently being done in the UK for example is very interesting? Testing Nuclear warheads underground to improve them is another interesting bit of tinkering that is going on from time to time by different countries. Testing new diseases on living animals and recording the effects of these new potential Bio-weapons for military use throughout the world is another intersting bit of tinkering that Scientists are involved with. Do I need to go on……. You David are one of those people who say go ahead let's see what happens and then something horrible is created that cannot be controlled or even worse is controlled and then evil minded men use these things to bring about untold of hurt to the masses. There should be guidelines and oversight and discussion first on what we should be messing with when it comes to that which has never been done before and touches the fabric of life. I am all for experiementing and yes many great cures and progress has been made by man by tinkering in the past – the problem is that humanity is now tinkering with things that could have monumental impacts on the planet as a whole and science should not have a green light to do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The vast majority of Americans would agree with this logic. Research Morgellons disease on the internet which is now linked to genetically engineered foods that are having an adverse effect on the body in some select people causing this terrible disease – check out articles related to genetic crops and how wildlife; birds, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, etc. stay away from such plants and trees as scientists now believe they most likely sense there is something not quite right with these created modified tinkered with forms of nature. Companies like Monsanto are doing alot of tinkering with our food supply – to what end? Research & become educated – Science can be great and can be deadly – we need to always continue to tinker but let's be smart about it.

  • adsaenz March 1, 2010 on 7:47 pm

    @Ted
    =)

    I think you misunderstood me.
    Yes, ripeness is a valid metric for judging fruit. You can use your senses to judge ripeness fairly well.
    However, I was more concerned with nutritional value. As far as I know, your senses are inadequate to inform you if a piece of produce has the trace elements that our bodies need but often do not receive from commercially produced agriculture. Fertilizers are a boon to agriculture, but the focus on P-N-K may leave us with large healthy looking fruit and vegetables that are missing the minute levels of chemicals we need (and that reportedly can be found in organically grown produce).
    Of course, I am derailing the comment thread from the GM discussion, so I apologize for bringing organics into this.
    Still, I hope @Ishmael understands my point that making food that smells and tastes better is not masking its nutritional value more than normal. That value was already masked when we moved from an agricultural to an industrial-agriculture system and focused on size/look over all other metrics.

    • ellanutella598 adsaenz October 16, 2014 on 1:02 pm

      FLABBA LABBA DOOOOOOOOOOOO

  • cheap rose May 26, 2010 on 7:01 am

    I’m not sure I fully see the point of this, and I’m sure it’s going to cost a lot of money but it’s a pretty cool idea. This makes me wonder what the future has in store for us, just in general. Things are always changing so drastically.

  • cheap rose May 26, 2010 on 7:01 am

    I’m not sure I fully see the point of this, and I’m sure it’s going to cost a lot of money but it’s a pretty cool idea. This makes me wonder what the future has in store for us, just in general. Things are always changing so drastically.

  • cheap rose May 26, 2010 on 3:01 am

    I’m not sure I fully see the point of this, and I’m sure it’s going to cost a lot of money but it’s a pretty cool idea. This makes me wonder what the future has in store for us, just in general. Things are always changing so drastically.

  • Gog July 28, 2010 on 8:03 am

    It’s obviously unethical and immoral, but these mad scientist refuse to let this sort of thing interfere with scientific discovery. True should not be continuously making mistakes and thus problems to solve, but instead the forsight to recognise the dangers of interfering with nature.

  • Gog July 28, 2010 on 8:03 am

    It’s obviously unethical and immoral, but these mad scientist refuse to let this sort of thing interfere with scientific discovery. True should not be continuously making mistakes and thus problems to solve, but instead the forsight to recognise the dangers of interfering with nature.

  • Gog July 28, 2010 on 4:03 am

    It’s obviously unethical and immoral, but these mad scientist refuse to let this sort of thing interfere with scientific discovery. True should not be continuously making mistakes and thus problems to solve, but instead the forsight to recognise the dangers of interfering with nature.

  • Uniwilltedflorists October 26, 2010 on 5:29 am

    I dont know about roses smelling of Bananas! I kind of like the smell that they already have.

  • Elexarose January 12, 2011 on 12:42 am

    I faint belivr this. I always want patunias but I hate the smell. And I like roses but hate the way they look. I am soooooo happy that this is coming to real life

    • ellanutella598 Elexarose October 16, 2014 on 1:01 pm

      My name is Felisha and i hate your sweater.