Space & Innovation

As World Warms, Flowers Become Less Fragrant

But genetic engineering may fix the problem.

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Photo: An assortment of English petunias -- such flowers may become less fragrant as global temperatures increase. Credit: Rosina Peixoto, Wikimedia Commons It's time to wake up and smell the flowers -- while they still smell good.

Unfortunately, climate change threatens the floral scents that we find so pleasant, according to an Israeli researcher.

"Increases in temperature associated with the changing global climate are interfering with plant-pollinator mutualism, an interaction facilitated mainly by floral color and scent," Hebrew University of Jerusalem doctoral candidate Alon Can'ani explained in a press release.

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Can'ani, who studies the control mechanisms in plants that allow them to regulate their scent, published his findings in an article in the journal Plant, Cell & Environment.

The researcher focused upon petunias rather than roses in his study. He bought cuttings from a local nursery and cultivated them in optimal temperature settings. Then he split the cuttings into two groups. He allowed some to continue to grow in the same optimal temperatures. Others were placed in a phytotron, a special type of greenhouse in which temperature conditions can be modified.

Can'ani then used gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy analyses to study the plants. He found that an increase in ambient temperature led to a decline in phenylpropanoid-based floral scent production in two Petunia hybrida varieties, P720 and Blue Spark.

As Can'ani explained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, making scent molecules is a lot of work for a flowering plant, since its distinctive aroma often is made up of hundreds of different scent molecules.

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If there's a positive side to this, it's that the researcher also has found that flowers can be genetically engineered to make them remain fragrant despite increased heat. Inserting a gene, called PAP1, from the extremely common lab plant Arabidopsis thaliana eliminated the heat sensitivity of perfume production.

In the short term, though, that won't help flower fanciers much.

"Certainly transgenic plants are becoming increasingly common practice in research," Can'ani told the newspaper. "You just can't buy them at the supermarket yet."

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