Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Who would have thought geneticists were the romantic type!

Gabrielle Robb

Valentines day comes and it goes, and unfortunately, so do the roses that wilt faster than you can say recombinant DNA technology. Thankfully, horticultural scientists John Dole and John Williamson are making it their mission to create a rose to rise above all others. They plan on genetically designing a rose with genes spliced from the not-so-romantic celery to give the rose a fighting chance against deathly pathogens.

Genetic Engineering enables scientists to alter the genetic material of living things and facilitate them to perform new functions and produce new substances (Medical Discoveries, 2012). The process called gene splicing, also known as recombinant DNA technique, allows scientists to identify certain genes, remove, duplicate and replace them in the same or an entirely different organism.

Dole and Williamsons’ motive is to extend the shelf life of roses. Like many plants the rose is highly susceptible to invasive fungal pathogens that produce high amounts of a sugar alcohol called mannitol. Mannitol interferes with the rose’s ability to protect against disease and results in botrytis, commonly known as petal blight. This causes the petals of the rose to wilt and become mushy (Nelson, 2011).  Botrytis affects a significant financial loss in the floriculture industry each year (Hao, 2010). However some plants, like celery, produce enough of the enzyme mannitol dehydrogenase are able to break down this sugar alcohol and therefore allow the plant to live for longer (North Carolina University, 2011). The goal is to extend the life of the rose from a meagre one week at best to up to a month, so far, Dole and Williamson have managed to make the 19-day mark!

According to the researchers, the only difference in the rose plants is their ability to break down mannitol and both their appearance and smell remain unaffected (Nelson, 2011).

Recombinant DNA technique works through the use of restriction enzymes that recognise specific DNA sequences and a re able to cut DNA strands at a particular point. The resulting DNA strands have at least one single stranded end known as the ‘sticky end’ that can be connected to another ‘sticky end’ of a different piece of DNA with DNA ligase. However, this can only work if the other strand of DNA has been cut with the same restriction enzyme (Reece et al. 2011).

This break- through could also be harnessed for the growth of food crops known to be susceptible to these pathogens and could provide significant aid to third world growers in particular. The benefits of transgenic crops were seen early last year in Mexico when a cold snap wiped out entire crops of corn; scientists were able to plant genetically modified corn to replenish one of the nations primary food sources (Acedo, 2011).

Conclusively, the work done by Dole, Williamson and many other genetic engineers will prove to be highly beneficial to many different people around the world- not just Romeo straining to make a lasting impression- with genetic technology expanding rapidly.

1.     Acedo, Alfredo 2011, Monsato uses latest food crisis to push transgenic corn in Mexico, viewed 17 March 2012, .
2.     Medical Discoveries 2012, Genetic Engineering, viewed 15 March 2012, .
3.     Nelson, Brian 2011, Scientists splice genes from roses and celery to create superflower, viewed 10 March 2012, .
4.     North Carolina State University 2011, Roses get celery gene to help fight disease, viewed 10 March 2012, .
5.     Reece, J, Meyers, N, Urry, L, Cain, M, Wasserman, S, Minorsky, P, Jackson, R & Cooke, B 2011, Campbell Biology, 9th edn, Pearson Education, Australia.
6.     Zhu, Hao 2010, Strategies to improve the post-harvest characteristics of the cut rose flower, viewed 15 March 2012, .

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