"We’re calling this project the cultured rose," says Patrick Boyle, an organism designer at the Boston company [Gingko Bioworks], who notes that microbes produce many naturally fermented product, such as beer, cheese, and yogurt, that we consume today. "What we’re doing is taking genes from roses and other flowers, transferring them into yeast, and rebuilding the bio-synthetic pathways that are producing the fragrances that roses produce."
— Robertet and Gingko Bioworks are working on a bioengineered rose oil. Read more at The Quest To Reproduce The Scent Of A Rose, With Designer Microbes at FastCo.Exist.
Why not just use rose oil without the strange microbe engineering?
It’s expensive, and becoming more so.
I thought the same thing — rose is pretty easy to get! Why not do ambergris or civet or Mysore sandalwood? Presumably this is a first test run for a new process that could eventually be used for something more useful?
It’s very expensive — huge quantities of rose petals are required for a small amount of oil. No idea why rose “first” though.
Rose is both widely used and expensive. Civet or ambergris would have only a limited market. I doubt whether anyone outside of the niche/indie perfume world would have any interest in it. A huge percentage of perfumes (and other scented products) contain “rose”, although in most cases it is synthetic. Naturally, they would go for something that would have a large potential market.
Natural scents are complex, and determining the genes involved in producing the fragrant compounds that make them up is a non-trivial process. In addition to rose oil being an expensive and popular component of many perfumes, roses are widely available, and can be grown in a lab garden, making them readily accessible for identifying the genes that encode the “perfume-synthetic enzymes”. Likely, once they work out the process, they will apply it to rarer plants (including, one might hope, the species of sandalwood that grows in Mysore).
Its hard to imagine how they would apply this technique to something like ambergris, the production of which depends on a whale digesting something and then having the product of that digestion float for some time in the ocean before it is ready for use in perfumery.
But could you use this modified yeast to make bread?
I like the way you think!
I love the nomenclature “cultured rose,” although (very very sorry, but someone had to say it!) a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.