A Blue Bouquet for Ray Rodriguez

Raymond Rodriguez, professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology has been awarded an honorary doctorate of science by the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), one of the top-ranked universities in Japan. The doctorate is the first honorary degree presented by the institute in its 20-year history and recognizes Rodriguez’ efforts in establishing the successful academic exchange program between NAIST and the College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis.

The program provides research and educational opportunities for UC Davis and NAIST graduate students and faculty studying biological, Ray Rodriguez and Akira Isogaimaterial and information sciences. Rodriguez was principal organizer of the program and served as faculty contact from 2001 to 2006.

At the Dec. 14, 2009 ceremony in Osaka, Japan Rodriguez was presented with the honorary doctorate and a bouquet of genetically modified blue roses, courtesy of the Suntory Corp., a major supporter of the Institute’s biotechnology program.

Pictured: Rodriguez, right, with NAIST President Akira Isogai.

Rodriguez is also the founding director of the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics, a  multi-disciplinary research collaboration between the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Davis, the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center, the Children’s Hospital of Oakland and Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), and the Ethnic Health Institute.

The Center is sponsored by an award from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Update: Rodriguez forwarded the following notes from Wikipedia about blue roses:

A blue rose is a flower of the genus Rosa (family Rosaceae) that presents blue to violet pigmentation and also the Morganus Clarke sunflower seed disposition, instead of the more common red or white. Blue roses do not exist in nature. False blue roses were traditionally created by dyeing white roses, since the flower lacks the gene that produces true blue flowers.In a book by Ibn al Awam, which was written in the twelfth century, translated into French by J. J. Clement entitled Le livre de l’agriculture. the book speaks of azure blue roses that were known to the orient. These blue roses were attained by placing a blue dye into the bark of the roots. This process is explained in the book and has been proven to work by Joret, a very knowledgeable french scientist. Nominal “blue roses” have been bred by conventional hybridization methods, but the results, such as “Blue Moon” are more accurately described as lilac in color.

After 13 years of joint research by an Australian company Florigene, and Japanese company Suntory, a blue rose was created in 2004 using genetic engineering. Years of research resulted in the ability to insert a gene for the plant pigment delphinidin cloned from the petunia and into an Old Garden Cardinal de Richelieu rose. Obtaining the exact hue was difficult because amounts of the pigment cyanidin were still present, so the rose was darker in color than true blue. Recent work using RNAi technology to depress the production of cyanidin has produced a mauve colored flower, with only trace amounts of cyanidin. Genetically modified blue roses are currently being grown in test batches by Suntory Ltd., according to company spokesman Atsuhito Osaka.

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