Those of you who know more about the science of hybridization than I do are already aware that it takes up to a decade to breed a rose that has the desired combination of traits, whatever those may be. A glance at today’s New York Times tells us that laborious process may become significantly shorter and easier. Scientists in France have succeeded in mapping the rose genome more completely than ever before. This will make it easier to edit genes to reduce pesticide and water use and isolate the most desired traits in breeding.
Here’s the sentence I liked:
For centuries, generations of breeding in the quest for longer blooms and petals in shades of nearly every hue have dulled the sweetest smells that once perfumed gardens around the world.
Maybe now, breeders will be able to make roses that are really improved, not just scentless, dull shrubs whose only benefit is that they bloom all the time. (Yes, referring to Knockouts here.)
The Times story includes a link to the actual scientific article, but it wasn’t working when I clicked. Which is just as well, because I had trouble following the interpretation of it provided for newspaper readers. What I got was that the researchers created a rose with just a single copy of each of its genes, instead of the multiple copies modern hybrids have. They sequenced genomes from several types of roses, including Rosa chinensis ‘Old Blush’ as well as other ancestral species and newer hybrids. This data can be combined with what already exists to precisely match traits and genes. Possible goals? Well, for starters, they could maybe lessen the chances of rose rosette, which is threatening Knockouts as well as other types, and perhaps improve the scent and form of other modern hybrids. And, of course, there are many other rose problems that this work could address.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with old roses and roses from breeders who love old roses, like David Austin. I’m in it for the scent and the old-fashioned forms.