Color-Changing Flowers—Biotechnology for Everyone

Color-changing petuniasThere is more to science than publications and profit. We believe in wonder. We believe in accessibility, transparency, and sustainability. 

Beautiful Biotechnology

Revolution Bioengineering (www.revolutionbio.co), a start-up based in Colorado, is bioengineering color-changing flowers. The products are purely aesthetic: flowers that change color on demand or throughout the day. “It’s a beautiful physical representation of how technology can be used as a tool to produce something artistic,” assert co-founders, Keira Havens and Nikolai Braun, who hope it will capture the imagination of the general public and make genetically modified organisms (GMOs) more accessible, personal, and better understood.

The Basis of Petunia Circadia Color Change. Plants with purple and pink flowers are genetically identical except for a mutation in a vacuolar ion channel. Modulating vacuolar pH leads to change in flower color.

Changing the Conversation on GMOs

Plants are extraordinary for the huge role they play in our lives. For thousands of years they have provided us with food and medicines for ourselves and our animals, fuel for our homes, and fiber for our clothes. More recently, they have provided plastics, and fuels for our cars. Revolution Bioengineering is interested in using their technical expertise as leading plant synthetic biologists to bring the incredible potential of plant molecular biology to life—outside of the food supply, outside of corporate control—to a place where people can interact with it.

GMOs have led to many positive outcomes: increased food yields; improved drought, flood, and disease resistance; and greater biomass for fuel production. While these projects are vital to the future of agriculture and energy, and have the potential to solve important global problems, they are often carried out by large companies, out of the public view. Typically, the only connection between the general public and GMOs are as some mysterious ingredients in food and the emotional arguments that surround the technology. The lack of understanding of the science behind genetic modifications, where they occur, and the lifecycle of the altered genetic material itself can instill fear.

Braun and Havens have worked to address these concerns in the design of their flowers. The scientists note that their model system, the petunia, is outside of the food chain and is easy for consumers to interact with—from growing them as indoor potted plants to planting them in gardens. The genetic alterations that the Revolution Bioengineering scientists use do not introduce herbicide or pesticide resistance, and the group works with plant parts to reduce worry around the creation of mixed species. The scientists will distribute the flowers to the public through vegetative propagation—supporters of their crowdfunding campaign will receive a color-changing flower plant rather than seeds—to mitigate concerns about the unwanted spread of these plants. And, since petunias are annuals, the plants will die at the end of the season.

Original and complete article at IDT (Integrated DNA Technologies).

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