Courtesy of Suntory Ltd.

More than $27 billion worth of cut flowers are sold in the global marketplace every year. Carnations and chrysanthemums are perennial favorites, but roses lead the way in total revenue. In a business driven by novelty, it's little wonder that molecular geneticists have been tinkering with the genes that give the best-selling rose its color.

Scientists at the Australian biotechnology company Florigene and Japanese partner Suntory recently announced the creation of a genetically engineered "blue" rose. Although blue in name only – the new flower is actually mauve – the efforts of the Florigene and Suntory researchers represent a crucial step in the centuries-long pursuit of a truly blue rose.

Traditional hybridization techniques failed to produce a blue rose because the gene for blueness – an enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of the blue pigment delphinidin – isn't present in the rose genome. Simply introducing the...

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