Kiwi Researchers Developing Novel Orchids

New Zealand scientists are developing ways to change the colour and patterns of flowers and leaves of ornamental flowers such as Cymbidium orchids.

New Zealand scientists are developing ways to change the colour and patterns of flowers and leaves of ornamental flowers such as Cymbidium orchids.

In particular, Cymbidium orchid exporters are keen to produce plants with blue and purple pigments, and flowers with novel patterns.

“Cymbidium orchids have a range of colours — pink, white, green and yellow — that are produced by a limited number of pigments,” says Dr David Lewis, who has been studying pigments in Cymbidium orchids. He believes that developing purple and blue flowers and red flowers should be possible.

“From a molecular perspective, it should be possible to develop purple and blue Cymbidium flowers with delphibidin[1]derived (the blue chemical) pigments and red flowers with pelargonidin-derived (the red chemical) pigments.”

A system for transferring the genes needed to modify flower colour and pattern has been developed by Crop and Food researcher Murray Boase. Already some transgenic orchids have been produced and are growing in containment, the newsletter says.

As well, researchers Dr Davies and Dr Kath Schwinn have spent three years studying what controls the production of key floral pigments and how these produce the complex patterns such as stripes or spots that occur in nature.

The first genetically modified “blue” flowers were created in 1995, when scientists for Australian company Florigene succeeded in implanting a blue gene from the petunia into carnations. A mauve-coloured carnation went on sale in 1996. This year, Japanese company Suntory, which now has majority ownership of Florigene, announced that it has successfully developed the world’s first genetically modified “blue rose”.

By using genetic modification, the Suntory researchers believe that they obtain more intensive and truly blue roses, than the “‘blue” roses obtained by conventional breeding. As well they expect to be able to expand the colours available as traditional roses have only red pigments, while roses with the ability to create a blue pigment will soon lead more variety in rose flower colour.

n New Zealand the primary goal of Crop and Food’s plant pigment scientists is to develop novel orchids for the New Zealand export market. According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Cymbidium orchids and callas have, over the past seven years, made up more than half of total flower exports from New Zealand. In 2003-04, New Zealand exported 3.15 million cymbidium orchid stems, worth NZ$15.3 million. The main markets for the New Zealand[1]grown orchids are Japan and the US.

According to the newsletter, Crop and Food is now seeking co-investment from New Zealand Cymbidium growers and are planning a bid for government funding to continue to develop their new orchids. As well, Crop and Food have a research and collaboration contract with the US’s largest horticultural products company, the Scotts Company.

“Our knowledge of flower colour and the gene technologies we have developed are attracting interest from flower exporters in New Zealand and overseas,” says Crop and Food’s Davies.

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