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April 17, 2008
Also appeared in print Apr. 21, 2008, p. 12


Evolution Of Rose Aroma Explained

Mutation produces enzyme that makes scent production efficient

Sophie L. Rovner

Take one sniff of a Chinese rose or a tea rose and you might think of black tea. Researchers in France now report that this signature scent evolved naturally as a result of a mutation that enables the production of two slightly different versions of an enzyme involved in aroma formation.

Courtesy of Philippe Hugueney/Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon
SMELLS GOOD The scent of the Chinese rose (shown) and tea roses is reminiscent of black tea.

The French work is "very innovative," says Efraim Lewinsohn, who investigates aroma generation in roses and other plants at Israel's Agricultural Research Organization in Ramat Yishay.

Philippe Hugueney, who studies evolution's impact on plant metabolism at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, and colleagues performed the research (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0711551105). Lyon, Hugueney notes, is an important rose-breeding city, in which the first hybrid tea rose was developed in 1867.

Modern tea roses are derived from crosses between tea-scented Chinese roses and hardier species from Europe, which have a floral rather than a tealike odor. Hybrid tea roses inherited the ability to produce tea scent from their Chinese forebears.

The major component of tea aroma is 3,5-dimethoxy