Fresh clues emerged this week when scientists identified the gene partly responsible for the delicate scent of the rose.
The discovery could help restore the classic scent accidentally bred out of rose varieties cultivated for other traits, says lead researcher Sylvie Baudino of the University of Lyon in Saint-Etienne, France.
Baudino and her colleagues compared the genomes of two very different rose varieties: the strong-smelling Papa Meilland and the weakly scented Rouge Meilland. Papa Meilland produces high levels of a group of organic compounds called monoterpenes, aromatic molecules that create many well-known natural scents, such as mint and citronella.
The petals of the fragrant Papa Meilland appeared to express one gene in particular, RhNUDX1, known in other organisms to produce an enzyme that helps cells handle stress. The researchers wondered if this enzyme could also be responsible for emitting the rose’s monoterpenes.
They knocked out RhNUDX1 in a line of roses, and found that their new flowers hardly emitted the tell-tale compounds. In another experiment, the team crossed compound-rich Old Blush roses with a less aromatic variety, Rosa wichurana. The progeny that produced the enzyme had sweet-smelling blooms, while those that didn’t produce the enzyme did not.
Baudino thinks the finding could be helpful for breeding the perfect rose: one that’s not only physically beautiful and hardy, but fragrant, too. Breeders could quickly cultivate the desired hybrids by testing for signs of the gene in the plant’s leaves, even before the rose has flowered.
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