Race for the True Blue Rose

Roses.are.Blue14 years of research.

27.8 million dollars

A cure for AIDS? Sub-Saharan diseases? Nope. We’re talking about a brewery. A japanese brewery, Suntory, who — according to their Web site — ‘…is Japan’s leading producer and distributor of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. We are also involved in pharmaceuticals, restaurant operation, sports, music and film, resort development, publishing, and information services.’

Oh yeah, and roses. Blue roses.

According to the Web site, Rugged Elegant Living (‘Your Guide to Healthy, Adventuresome, Soulful Living!’ — through genetic manipulation?), Suntory has been working on this project with Australian biotec venture Calgene Pacific since 1990. On July 5, 2004 they announced:

Suntory successfully created the blue rose by implanting the gene that leads to the synthesis of blue pigment in pansies. The color of the new rose comes entirely from the pigment Delphinidin, which does not exist in natural roses. …There are “bluish” roses on the market created through cross-breeding but the Sunroy rose is the first reported genuine blue rose.

Why would a brewer put all this effort into a developing a blue rose?

As a company in the food industry, we have developed businesses to enrich people’s lives. We have continued research and development activities for our flower operations because flowers adds flavors to people’s lives and help sustain spiritual health.

The flowers are expected to be available for purchase in 2007 or 2008.

Do gooders, my ass. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the estimated $64 million US share of the market annually that the elusive “blue” rose is expected to capture.

As though this story weren’t bizarre enough, Britain’s news giant The Telegraph announced back in late May that two biochemists conducting research into drugs for cancer and Alzheimer’s in Tennessee discovered a liver enzyme that, when moved into a bacterium, would turn it blue.

Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr Elizabeth Gillam, part of a cabal of scientists heroically participating in the single-minded quest for a cure to the 20th century plague, had this to say:

We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years.

Dr Gillam had the bright idea that we could capitalise on our discovery by moving the gene into plants – and produce a blue rose.

I suppose you can’t separate the spiritual from the physical when it comes to good health. I think they all deserve a medal.