People use their scent to attract the opposite (or same) sex. Many of them prefer a natural scent, while other love the smell of perfume or cologne. Many others are turned off by bad odor. In the plant kingdom, flowers also use scent to attract pollinators. Usually, flowers with fragrant and aromatic scent attract more insects than flowers with bad or no smell.
Scent then is crucial to the ecosystem, as well as to the flower industry. That’s why scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are attempting to genetically modify the scent of flowers and embed scents in those that do not have one.
The importance of smell
Smell is an important part of our lives. We use our sense of smell in choosing food, perfume, and even our partners. But it is not just what we smell, it is also what we taste, says Prof. Alexander Vainstein, the researcher leading the team at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. He adds, "Aroma is of major importance for defining the taste of food."
Scent in plants and flowers is used to attract such pollinating insects as bees and beetles. These insects help in passing on the pollen needed in the reproduction and creation of fruits. Scent intensity varies, depending on species, time of day, weather, and age of the flower.
In the study recently published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, Vainstein and Michal Moyal Ben-Tzvi, his research assistant, were successful in finding a way to enhance the scent of flowers by tenfold. Together with other researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, they succeeded in causing flowers to emit a scent all day long, irrespective of their natural rhythm of producing scent.
Vainstein’s lab is the only lab in the world where researchers study flower scent and color. His greenhouse at the university’s Rehovot campus is filled with genetically altered flowers whose scent, color, and architecture the researchers are attempting to engineer.
The development has been patented by the university’s technology transfer company, Yissum. It is intended for application to other agricultural produce. The importance of this genetic modification is that using natural components will change and increase not only the scent of fruit and vegetables; it will also also influence the commercial viability of many agricultural produce.
Also, the genetic alteration will benefit the flower industry. "Many flowers lost their scent over many years of breeding. Recent developments will help to create flowers with increased scent as well as producing new scent components in the flowers," says Vainstein.