According to a recent article in MIT Technology Review, Monsanto is working on anti-aging technology for flowers using genetic alterations it can feed through vase water. In its patent application, the company disclosed that it’s testing a new way of stopping roses, petunias and carnations from wilting, which could help get flowers to supermarkets just as they’re ready to bloom.
Monsanto is attempting to develop temporary, spray-on genetic alterations for fresh flowers in a program it calls BioDirect. The new approach — unlike GMO, or permanently changing a plant’s genome — involves temporarily modifying specific genes by spraying them with genetic molecules called RNA, or feeding the molecules to their roots.
A couple of years ago, Monsanto scientists tried to use RNA to interfere with cut flowers’ ability to make ethylene, which plant scientists call “the aging hormone.” The company claims it had some success blocking the hormone by doping vase water with RNA designed to block ethylene production. If this concept proves successful, could plants be made to blossom on command?
A spokesperson for Monsanto said the flower effort represents “early discovery work” by teams that have tried to identify new applications of RNA in agriculture. If the technology works, “it will meet a real need in the flower industry,” said Hilary Rogers, a scientist who studies stress in plants at Cardiff University in England, in the release.
The flower industry could definitely use some new ideas for reducing waste because it faces many challenges in marketing a very perishable product. Plus, as Rogers noted, the hidden environmental costs of shipping flowers across the world by air spurs some critics each year to say, “buying flowers just isn’t worth it.”