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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Blue Genes for Chrysanthemums
Hugh Bollinger

Blue Genes for Chrysanthemums

Blue Chrysanthemum created in Japan (credit: Naonobu Noda/AAAS)

Clear blue flowers are uncommon in nature, by some estimates less than 10% of flowering plants produce blue blooms. Iris, larkspur, and cornflowers naturally carry the gene that codes for the blue pigment delphinidin but most other plant species do not. Blue is so prized by plant breeders and consumers that the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK has created charts to set standards to be considered as 'true colors' including blue.

In what is a 'first-of-its-kind' development, researchers at Japan's National Agricultural and Food Research Organization (NARO) have used modern molecular genetics to create a pure blue chrysanthemum. Publishing his results in Science Advances, plant scientist Naonobu Noda described how he used genetic engineering to insert a gene producing the cyan color from blue Canterbury Bells into chrysanthemums. The gene modified the complex biochemical pathway to produce blooms that were purple instead of red. To reach the RHS blue color chart standard, Noda then inserted a second gene from a blue pea species to create the final blue chrysanthemum outcome. 

Breeding chrysanthemums has a long and honored tradition in Japan. The flowers are highly prized and festivals are held every year to celebrate the newest blooms. Dr. Noda's blue chrysanthemums will likely take a top prize in future competitions, maybe in a category all their own. He is now working to create a sterile version of his blue 'mums' so plants could only be propagated from cuttings. The global flower market may have an exciting new entrant very soon. WHB

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