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Unbottling Floral Scent and Genomics

A rose is a rose, but the nose knows! For centuries, several floral scents have been used for their sensual delight in perfumery and to improve acceptability of food. From the kitchen to the garden, some of the most popular floral, fruit and herbal scents are lavender, freesia, gardenia, pear, peach and mint. Perfumers have been primary consumers of floral scent chemistry, bottling the sweetness of freesia, gardenias and the like; but they merely require the structure of the scent. In recent years scientists are taking a step back to see how biochemical mechanisms produce scent.

Scientists are turning to the growing DNA database, hunting for scent genes that could enhance future flowers, as well as their application in perfumery and flavor. This could mean more romantic bouquets and a bonanza for the flower, perfumery and flavor industry. Slowly and surely, flowers spiked with scent, or transgenic fruits with special flavor will hit the marketplace, despite the lukewarm climate for genetically modified foods. Plant scents don’t just attract insects. They also attract human grazers. Recently scientists have identified key volatiles that flavor sweet basil and strawberries, among other edible plants. University of Michigan researchers have reported engineering tomatoes with Slinalool, a scent and flavor volatile compound also found in flowers. Their ultimate goal is improving both scent and taste. This type of research will continue and new plant volatiles and uses will continue to emerge.

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