In a popular Chinese folktale, a blue rose is the ticket to marry the princess. Naturally, her vying suitors struggle; a rose simply doesn’t grow that color. In the end, the princess marries the gardener’s son who offers a beautiful white rose—because it appears blue through a stained glass window.

Today, no such duplicity is needed: the princess can actually have that “true blue” rose.

Florigene, an Australian biotech company specializing in flowers, has just received a license to commercially release its genetically modified Hybrid Tea Rose—the world’s first rose to boast blue petals.

A flower’s color comes from its ability to synthesize pigments. Although roses can bloom in a pallet of colors, including pink and yellow, they lack the enzymes to produce the blue plant pigment delphinidin. Manipulated variations of red pigment have yielded bluish shades in recent years but never rose petals with genuinely blue pigment.

Florigene’s new rose expresses delphinidin thanks to borrowed “blue genes”: the gene for flavonoid 3’5”-hydroxylase from the wild pansy, and the gene for anthocyanin 5-acyltransferase from a hybrid of the wishbone flower and a close relative, Torenia concolor. The manipulated rose’s genome also contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene used to identify and select successfully transformed plant cells.

Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, the government agency that granted Florigene’s license, noted negligible health and environmental risks in its decision to grant the license. Still, as a measure of caution, the pollen from the genetically modified rose does not contain the introduced genes.

Some may argue that the rose is not all that blue. The Chemical Engineer Today reports, “It’s not royal blue or even sky blue.” But it is blue. And, as the princess told the people who doubted her choice of suitor: “If you cannot see that the rose is blue, I say that you are colorblind.”

Illustration of blue rose by diane555 via iStockPhoto.