A true scientific breakthrough: the blue rose
By David Harrison
It is the "Holy Grail" of horticulture and soon it could make the perfect present for Mother's Day: scientists have found a way to produce a blue rose.
A chance discovery in a laboratory means that they will be able to create the blue rose "within a year" and it is expected to go on sale to the public soon after that.
How the blue rose could look
Rose breeders and growers said that blue roses would be hugely popular and estimated that they would win five per cent - £35 million - of the £700 million international market for cut roses.
Roses come in many colours - from pink to yellow, peach and red - but, until now, no one has found a way to create a natural blue rose and the quest has acquired an almost mystical significance among breeders.
The discovery was made by chance by two biochemists conducting research into drugs for cancer and Alzheimer's in a medical laboratory at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr Elizabeth Gillam were trying to find out how the human liver breaks down drugs when they came across a liver enzyme that had a startling effect.
"When we moved a liver enzyme into a bacterium, the bacterium turned blue," Dr Guengerich said. "We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years.
"Dr Gillam had the bright idea that we could capitalise on our discovery by moving the gene into plants - and produce a blue rose."
The scientists, who have patented the process, describe their findings in an article in the next issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Rose growers and breeders - who have spent years experimenting with grafts and cross-breeding in unsuccessful attempts to produce a blue rose - gave a mixed reaction to the discovery.
Ian Kennedy, a spokesman for the British Association of Rose Breeders, described the findings as exciting.
Peter Beales, the president of the Royal National Rose Society, was less impressed. "It might be a novelty for a year or two then it will probably disappear into oblivion," he said.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party declined to say whether it would consider adopting the blue rose as its emblem - trumping Labour's red rose - but one official said: "All things are possible. Perhaps one day we will see a true blue rose as the symbol of the true blue party."