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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Plant of the Month

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, April 10, 2015/Categories: art and design, plants

Western civilization owes a huge debt to the Greeks. Their art, literature, politics, and military achievements influenced much of what we do and their accomplishments are studied to this day. However, it islikely few knew these great thinkers and creators were also some of the first botanists. The appreciated, named, and cultivated, many of the medicinal and decorative plants we know and grow today.

The Greeks were particularly fond of carnations ( Dianthus caryophyllus ) which were given the name, Dianthus, by
Theophrastus  from the Greek words for divine ("dios") and flower ("anthos"), Flower.of the Gods.

         
  Garden Dianthus (credit: Royal Horticultural Society, UK)   Commercial Carnations (carnations.org)

Wild Dianthus are pink with white, hence their common name "pinks". Selective breeding has produced the diversity of colors---pink, white, red, or yellow---that are now part of the global carnation trade or grown in gardens worldwide. These colors were developed because the genes encoding for the production of carotenoids and the flavonoids, the flowers yellow, red, and orange pigments, existed in the wild species. The genes for producing blue and purple pigments (delphinidins) were lacking in wild species. Modern plant breeding combined with modern genetic tools resolved this roadblock.

Using molecular biology, the Japanese company  Florigene Flowers  created the first blue carnations by genetically inserting the delphinidin gene, isolated from petunias, into the chromosomes of carnations. The resulting blue-purple flowers are called  MoonCarnations and  are now available to growers and consumers.

     
                          Florigene's 'Moondust' Carnations (credit: Creative Commons, Wiki-commons)

The blue carnations illustrate a practical and beautiful application of biotechnology to a famous plant with a long and continuing history of selection, development, and cultivation. The Greeks would have been impressed.

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