Allergy Free Plants On The Horizon?
September 1, 2012

Researchers Working On Long-Lasting, Pollen-Free Flowers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Those who love gardening, or just enjoy the beauty of plant life, but are unable to do so as a result of hay fever or similar allergic reactions will undoubtedly welcome new research out of Spain that could result in long-lasting, pollen-free plants.

According to an August 30 statement, researchers from the Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas (IBMCP) and BIOMIVA S.L. were able to alter an ornamental plant from the genus Pelargoniums and make it pollen-free by targeting a pair of bacterial genes.

"Pelargoniums ('Geraniums' and 'Storkbills') have been cultivated in Europe since the 17th century and are now one of the most popular garden and house plants around the world," the statement said. "They have been selectively bred to produce a wide range of leaf shapes, flowers and scents, and have commercial traits such as early and continuous flowering, pest and disease resistance and consistent quality."

The scientists involved in the project modified Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a bacteria responsible for causing crown gall disease in dicots, to carry altered genes. In one gene, the enzyme Isopentenyl phosphotransferase (ipt) was altered in order to increase the amount of the hormone cytokinin, in order to help prevent aging, while the second was engineered in order to destroy pollen-producing anthers, the authors of the press release noted.

"The modified DNA was injected into Pelargonium zonale cells by the bacteria, where it was subsequently integrated into the plant's genome," they added "Individual plants were then grown from these transgenic cells. P. zonale plants carrying the modified genes were more compact with increased number of branches and leaves than normal. These plants also had small leaves and flowers, with more vibrant colors, and the extra cytokinin in the leaves meant that these plants lived longer than usual."

Their findings were published Friday in the journal BMC Plant Biology, and offer hope to those who want to display floral life for longer than usual, and to do it without suffering from pollen-related allergies, the researchers said.

"The ipt enzyme catalyzes the rate-limiting step for cytokinin biosynthesis in plants and consequently extra ipt, provided transgenically, produces more cytokinin and prevents the plant cells from aging," explained IBMCP's Dr. Luis Cañas, one of the authors of the study. "In addition, the use of an anther-specific promoter from pea driving the expression of a bacterial gene (ribonuclease), prevents the development of male progenitor cells into anthers and pollen, resulting in pollen-free flowers."