Not to be sneezed at - the pollen-free flower

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The Independent Online
RELIEF IS on the way for thousands of hay fever sufferers. Scientists are developing a "sneeze-free" flower devoid of pollen. They are also investigating the possibility of producing pasture grasses - the principle source of pollen in the countryside - that fail to flower.

And the breakthrough could also allow growth of genetically modified (GM) crops without the risk of contamination from stray pollen, said Dr Robert Sablowski, a researcher at the John Innes Institute near Norwich. Horticultural researchers believe they have identified the main genes involved in flower formation, which can be genetically engineered to produce flower-less plants or pollen-less flowers. One gene, called "leafy", has controls genes involved in stimulating the growth of a flower's internal structures, including its male reproductive organs - the stamens - which produce pollen.

Professor Detlef Weigel, who led the team from the Salk Institute in La Jolla in California, said the discovery will allow horticulturalists to manipulate a plant's flowers with fine precision.

"Knowing all the cues that lend a flower its size and shape should permit the deliberate design of flowers through genetic manipulations," he said.

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