Feb 12, 2010
UF Researchers Isolate Fragrance GenesSource: University of Florida

A team of researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences recently uncovered some of the genes that control the complex mixture of chemicals that make up a flower’s scent. This discovery has opened new ways of “turning up” and “tuning” a flower’s aromatic compounds to produce desired fragrances, according to a news story on the University of Florida’s website.

In work published in the January issue of The Plant Journal and the February issue of Phytochemistry, the researchers describe how various genes in petunias help regulate the amount of the 13 major aromatic compounds in that flower’s fragrance. GPN also published an article last year about Clark’s ongoing research. Read it here.

“For a long time, breeders have mostly focused on how flowers look, their size, color and how long blooms last,” said David Clark, a professor of environmental horticulture. “But scent has gotten left behind. Go to a florist and try to smell the flowers. You probably won’t get what you expect.”

Breeders have selected plants that produce bigger, more attractive flowers with long vase lives through the years, Clark said, but in doing so, they may have been inadvertently selecting plants less-fragrant plants. But that may not be the case for too long: Customers could someday walk into a flower shop and choose from scented or unscented varieties of the same flower.

The studies are part of an ongoing effort to isolate the chain reaction responsible for producing scent; understanding this process will help scientists modify fragrances without interfering with other flower qualities, according to Thomas Colquhoun, a UF environmental horticulture researcher and first author on both papers.

Clark and his colleagues have spent the past decade combing through more than 8,000 petunia genes. The search has yielded some interesting finds, including the fact that the gene that produces the compound that gives rose oil its distinctive scent also makes tomatoes taste good, according to the news story. By manipulating this gene, UF researchers led by horticulture professor Harry Klee have been able to create tomatoes with more flavor and are working on better-smelling roses, too.

“The taste of food, the smell of a flower — these are things that enrich our lives in ways we don’t fully understand yet,” Clark said. “Learning how plants interact with us and their environment brings us closer to truly appreciating what the natural world has to offer.”

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