A blooming marvellous innovation

Image: Jan Moninckx, Moninckx Atlas, 1686–1709.

Image: Jan Moninckx, Moninckx Atlas, 1686–1709.

I know that this year’s British sum­mer hasn’t been much to write home about (and you would be writ­ing home to the UK– who would have sojourned in that sod­den isle given the choice?). But at least the tra­di­tional hay fever (sea­sonal aller­gic rhin­itis – or pollin­osis if caused gen­er­ally by pol­len) hasn’t been too bad this year as a res­ult. But we’ve got to keep pos­it­ive and look to the future, and hay fever could return and be as bad as in future years. So, wel­come news that allergen-free pelar­goni­ums have been cre­ated (at last, really use­ful research! and def­in­itely some­thing to write home about…) by the appro­pri­ately flor­ally named Begoña García-Sogo et al. Using our old friend Agrobacterium and GM (genetic modi­fic­a­tion) they engin­eered some plants that las­ted longer (flor­ists will love that! almost as much as oil bar­ons wel­come cars powered by hydro­gen from water…) – by pro­du­cing more cytokinin – and oth­ers that were male sterile, in which pol­len grains – a hay-fever-causing agent – were not observed (so no chance of the trans­genes being unwit­tingly intro­duced to any wild­type pelar­gonium crops in your neighbour’s garden). And, by way of my own mod­est attempt at increas­ing out­reach of a sci­entific pub­lic­a­tion – as encour­aged so to do by Chris Gunter and Anne Osterrieder – I’m happy to advise that this art­icle has been blogged by Simon Harold (who did not take part in the research repor­ted), whose post gives a really good back­ground to the sci­ence and rel­ev­ance of the work car­ried out.

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

4 Responses

  1. Pat says:

    Surely Pelargonium pol­len is very unlikely to cause hay­fever as the flower is insect-pollinated, not wind-pollinated?

  2. Nigel Chaffey says:

    Maybees, but what do people (even hay­fever suf­fer­ers, I sus­pect) tend to do to flowers? They put them close to their noses and sniff them to see what they smell like. What bet­ter oppor­tun­ity to hoover up any pol­len and get it dir­ectly into the body…

  3. Wind-blown pol­len from Cryptomeria japon­ica (Japanese ‘cedar’ or sugi) is a major aller­gen in Japan: huge plant­ings over the last 50 years have acer­bated the prob­lem enorm­ously. There are sev­eral trans­genic breed­ing pro­grammes to develop male-sterile sugi — here are some in a quick Google-scholar link: http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?as_q=cryptomeria+pollen+male+sterility+transgenic&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_occt=any&as_sauthors=&as_publication=&as_ylo=2005&as_yhi=&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5

    I remem­ber teach­ing a course in Siena, Italy, where I was using lily pol­len and con­fid­ently expec­ted to source the mater­ial from the numer­ous flor­ists in the city on the morn­ing before the prac­tical. Unfortunately, every one of them sold only emas­cu­lated lilies and unopened flowers were infertile!

    Meanwhile, I sug­gest Forget-me-snot as the vari­etal name for an allergen-free Pelagonium.

  4. Pat says:

    Lilies are emas­cu­lated because they drop huge amounts of dark-coloured pol­len and annoy neat and tidy house­proud types.

    I have hay­fever and have never had a prob­lem with any insect-pollinated flower. You gen­er­ally have to be sens­it­ised by expos­ure to large amounts of the par­tic­u­lar type of pol­len before you become aller­gic to it. I spent 6 months in Spain without hay­fever until my immune sys­tem star­ted to recog­nise the new pol­lens. The plant hunter Bowles was, in part, on the run from his hay­fever on his travels.

    I think it would be unlikely to get enough of the heavy pol­lens of insect-pollinated flowers to sens­it­ise the immune sys­tem how­ever enthu­si­ast­ic­ally you sniff. They are designed to stick to things.

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