CRISPR Cas-9 and designer roses

The CRISPR Cas-9 will lead to an explosion in potentially highly beneficial GMOs - Google it.

I believe that the gene editing tool CRISPR Cas-9 or it’s predecessors will one day, probably sooner than we think, make “designer plants” and eventually “designer roses” a reality. Of course, the advance of this technology has huge potential for good and bad, and there are many, many, social, ethical, and legal questions yet to be resolved regarding its use, so I’ll keep my questions to our genus Rosa.

If you knew which genes you wanted in a cross and knew where they where located in the parent plants to produce the offspring you desired, and you could “wave a magic wand” and make them all come together in one offspring, would you?

If you had a favorite rose, and you could “wave the magic wand” to eliminate all of its faults would you?

Now for the second part. If you were the inventor of the “magic wand” or more likely the company that the inventor worked for, and had spent lots of time and money on discovering exactly which genes were the genes you needed, figuring out where you could get them from, and finally crafting a way to make it all come together, would you build in guaranteed sterility into your plants so that you could recoup your investment and make a profit?

My fear is that the first successful adopters of this kind of technology will want lots of profit to fund future projects. I’m in my mid fifties, so I believe, with luck, I’ll live to see this type of technology applied to roses, but only to see complete sterility in plants released or the threat of lawsuits if we apply our time honored techniques to those specimens that are released that do have some fertility.

Is it right to issue patents on the use of genes that hybridizers have been chasing for centuries? Is it right to have laws preventing us in the future from using these designed combinations of genes through sexual reproduction of new cultivars?

Would you even consider crossing to one of these “genetically engineered” roses from the future?

On a personal note, if I could make all of my roses grow and bloom as healthily as my Blush Noisette does in a very shady in spot in my yard I would, as result, this year I’ve got twenty or so hips growing all over my yard with BN markers designating the pollen parent. But I promise, if I ever get anything interesting I will share it with this group.

I open it up for discussion and other pertinent questions.



As you know, breeding a rose that will compete successfully on the global market is not an easy task. It sounds much easier to use CRISPR Cas-9 to splice a new rose, but where will they start?

Years ago, in the days of rec.gardens.roses, Sam McGredy informed us that anyone who tried to splice one of his patented roses and then claim intellectual rights for it would be in for a legal battle. Legitimate sports are one thing; engineered (spliced) variations would amount to a deliberate theft of Sam’s rights.

Of course, they could splice a rose with an expired patent, then re-introduce it under a new name. How would it be registered?

Maybe a mildew-resistant ‘Blue Glory’, a spliced ‘Crimson Glory’, would attract some attention … and lots of money to the “inventor”. But if it cannot be used for breeding due to licensing fees, it would not have much of a legacy. It would soon be replaced by ‘Blue Herbst’ and ‘Blue Olympiad’. More money, money, money. We would be treated to a spliced replay of old roses, with nothing in the way of long term improvement.


Hi everyone, here’s something you may find interesting.


Here’s the other side of this sort of dispute.

There is no doubt that the ‘Enola’ bean is genetically identical to yellow-seeded beans originating in Mexico. This fact is stated in the original patent application. Nevertheless, though the patent has been repeatedly rejected, the claimant continued (continues?) to appeal. The result is that Mexican farmers were barred from exporting their heirloom bean for a decade. And more?

Such abuses of the patent laws are not uncommon. This could be relevant to rose breeders in the near future.

For example, ‘Stormy Weather’ has been found to be resistant to RRD. How long before some biotech company isolates a gene (or several) in ‘Stormy Weather’ that confer this resistance? At that point, an overly-broad patent might be granted that could (hypothetically) be extended to ‘Stormy Weather’, its parents, and any other varieties of similar lineage that happen to carry the target gene(s). And if the patent is rejected, the applicant could appeal and appeal and appeal for years to come.


Undoubtably they are many side to these stories and history is full of them. Someone I know developed a Orienpet lily
hybrid about 25 years age when this kind of lily breeding was in its infancy. They send it out of testing,only to find
someone else had made the same cross with exactly the same genetic make up.
I also heard the a hybridizer went to a smallish nursery and one their greenhouses was full of his creations and the owner
was not registered to grow them.
I think this kind of thing is in the back of the minds of all small rose breeds and hold us back from getting promising seedlings tested and in to the market.

This case cited below is on of the most aggregious incidents of low ethics and thief.

I’d like to reply to the first and last postings above.

One important fact about CRISPR CAS9 technology is that it can only edit genes, not insert them. Like a controllable spell-checker, it can change “wanting” into “waiting” or “waiting” into “wailing” but it can’t get “wanting” into “wailing” in a single step. It could change “wanting” into “ranting” but not “granting”. So far CRISPR is used mainly to change a code so that a gene quits working. Then we can see what it was supposed to do when it worked. CRISPR could be used to correct the single base mutation that results in sickle cell disease, but it won’t have anything to do with making a blue rose. That still takes a lot of recombinant DNA technology. The really big feature of CRISPR is that you can remove the CRISPR and CAS-9 after doing your work, just as a plumber takes away their tools. Then the USDA will consider that the edited gene is not recombinant DNA, because DNA is defined as coming from a different organism. The result of CRISPR editing is just what might happen as a spontaneous mutation induced by radiation or chemicals. Those have been considered acceptable in plant breeding for a long time.

About the last posting on HeLa cells, I think we need a little bit of historical perspective. In 1950-51, no one in the world had successfully produced an immortalized human cell line. It was completely unprecedented. Tissue culture of animal cells was in a very primitive state. Plant cell work was not a whole lot further along except for a few things like tobacco pith and carrot roots. Eagle’s medium for animal cells and Murashige and Skoog medium for plant cells were not yet invented. People were just finding their way in the unknown. Basic tools like column chromatography on ion exchangers, and electrophoresis were just being developed. We didn’t know the structure of DNA, or even the correct number of human chromosomes.

Scientists needed human tissue to study human enzymes and pathways. Biopsy samples were about all they could get except for some rare donations of entire organs from accident victims, or those who succumbed to hereditary metabolic diseases. Because no one had kept human tissue cells alive for any significant length of time, outside the body, they didn’t think ahead to what it might mean if they should succeed in keeping some going for as long as a year. And because the cells had never yielded anything of monetary value, the idea of profiting from them was not really in their ethical vocabulary. The NIH, where most of the basic research took place, was publicly supported and all publications were meant to be shared by the entire public. Some publishers made this difficult, but generally the public scientists of that era didn’t hold tightly onto intellectual property. The entire NIH in 1951 was smaller than one of our research universities is today.

I’m not excusing later mistakes, just trying to show something of what it was like at the time. The history of HeLa cells was well told, long before Rebecca Skloot, in Gold’s book “A Conspiracy of Cells”, published in 1986.

CRISPR could be used to correct the single base mutation that results in sickle cell disease, but it won’t have anything to do with making a blue rose.

Does not the receptor theory of disease susceptibility give us a target for CRISPR editing that could well yield commercial benefit? Switch off the “BS receptor”, say, or modify it slightly and voila, clean foliage. Rinse and repeat as often as needed for new BS strains and you have a perpetual arms race that will help keep the biological industrial complex humming and the patent attorneys litigating.

“I believe that the gene editing tool CRISPR Cas-9 or it’s predecessors will one day, probably sooner than we think”

And I still do. Perhaps I should have used “and” instead of “or”, but you have to find em’ first before you can use 'em.

Don, I guess if there is a single receptor for a disease and it doesn’t normally respond to something else, you might just knock it out and prevent the disease. Good idea. But in the case of many viruses, the receptor for the virus is something that the host normally uses beneficially for some other function. That’s why spontaneous mutation & natural selection hasn’t eliminated the receptor. For HIV there is a very rare genotype that is resistant. I don’t at the moment know why that very rare genotype is rare. Most likely it has some detrimental effect on the carrier for some life circumstance. Of course HIV only jumped to humans a few decades ago, previously finding a more hospitable host elsewhere. Avian flu, swine flu, the 1918 “Spanish flu” (which actually began spreading at Ft Riley barracks) and their various mixtures happen mostly because of high density confined living of swine, birds and people.

For the various fungal diseases of roses, or wheat, or rice, maize or soybeans, it is mainly intensive monoculture that is responsible for their spread. With a minimum of a dozen races of BS, we’d need to map out and knock out all the variant receptors, to have a durable resistance. More usefully we could identify a key step that all these feed into as a response pathway either for or against the fungus. Then engineer this pathway. My analogy, 20 doors to a big theater complex, but only two ticket takers once you get inside, who let you into the shows.

This brings me back to Baxter’s first point. Yes, CRISPR will be great for ID of the steps in paths of response or control, for all sorts of things. It will revolutionize our understanding of some things. It is a powerful tool and may win a Nobel prize. My colleagues are using it to knock out predicted lipid biosynthesis pathways to learn what are the alternatives, in the hope of later engineering plant seeds to make special oils.