Genetic modification may increase a flower's fragrance

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Odor Aroma compound Perfume

Genetically modified flowers and even aroma producing yeast could figure highly in the fragrance industry of the future, according to researchers in Israel.

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say they have found a way to significantly increase the production of aroma compounds in plants, creating flowers that can produce up to ten times more of the compounds than the wild-type.

Generating more aroma compounds

The recent research, published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, focuses on petunias, but Professor Alexander Vainstein said the team are now looking at roses, a flower that holds a particularly important place in the hearts of many perfumers.

“With our research we have found a way to generate more of the compounds that are of interest to the fragrance industry”​ explained Professor Vainstein.

“For the same square metre of field you would be able to generate more fragrance compounds.”

In order to increase the production of the aroma compounds, Vainstein and the team introduced the Pap1 transcription factor from another flowering plant (Arabidopsis thaliana​) into the petunia.

Scent and colour are linked

Pap1 stands for the Production of Anthocyanin Pigment1. Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds that play an important role in the pigmentation of a plant. Indeed, one of the interesting conclusions to come out of the team’s research is the link between the scent and colour pathways in flowers.

According to the study, the Pap1-transgenic petunia flowers produced significantly higher levels of aroma compounds as well as illustrating enhanced pigmentation.

Although the transgenic petunias produced higher levels of the aroma compounds, they did so only at night, consistent with the natural rhythms of the plant.

However, the addition of phenylalanine to the transgenic plants led to increased emission of aroma compounds in the day time, therefore abolishing the night time rhythm.

Some plants release aroma compounds at night, and some in the morning, depending on the specific pollinator they wish to attract, explained Vainstein.

“Our research has found a way to generate fragrance compounds during both day and night irrespective of the natural rhythms of the plant,” ​he said.

Although the production of the aroma compounds is increased in these plants, the scent remains exactly the same.

However, some of the scientists’ previous research investigated the effects of introducing various aroma related genes from one plant into another, for example introducing rose genes into the petunia.

According to Vainstein, this could be of particular interest to the fragrance industry as it could create new scents as yet unknown.

Fragrant yeast?

The team is also studying the possibilities of introducing aroma related genes into yeast genomes. This way we wouldn’t even need a field, just a test tube and a laboratory, he said.

While the research is unearthing some important and valuable details about the aroma and pigment pathways in flowers, there remains a lot to understand and solve.

Vainstein likened the work to the Paris metro.

“At the moment we are looking at all the connections in the North section, but there will be connections within the South, East and West as well. We need to find out how the different pieces of the web fit together.”

Nevertheless, Vainstein is confident that even now there are applications of this research that could be very valuable to the industry, adding that he is currently in talks with some fragrance players regarding its potential.

Source: Plant Biotechnology Journal​2008, 6, pages 403-415Interlinking showy traits: co-engineering of scent and colour biosynthesis in flowers​Michal Moyal Ben Zvi, Florence Negre-Zakharov, Tania Masci, Marianna Ovadis, Elena Shklarman, Hagit Ben-Meir, Tzvi Tzfira, Natalia Dudareva and Alexander Vains

Related topics Formulation & Science

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