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Fragrant rose. © Jean-Claude Caissard

The surprising secret to the scent of a rose

The key components of rose fragrance are produced by a unique synthetic pathway never before studied in plants. That is the finding of a team of researchers from Jean Monnet University in Saint Etienne, in collaboration with researchers from INRA, the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, the Universities of Strasbourg and Lyon, and the CNRS1. Published in the July 3, 2015 edition of Science, the results are opening up new avenues, notably in the selection of rose plants.

Updated on 09/14/2015
Published on 07/03/2015
Keywords: ROSE - perfume

Rose petal extraction. © Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne, A. Cheziere
Rose petal extraction © Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne, A. Cheziere
When it comes to global sales, no other flower rivals the rose. Made up of hundreds of odorant molecules, the rose’s fragrance has been used since ancient times in the perfume and cosmetics industry. The flower’s tell-tale scent is attributed primarily to molecules from the monoterpene family (especially geraniol). How are these monoterpenes synthesised in roses and why do some roses lack scent? The teams of researchers set out to answer these very questions.

Until now, it was thought that there was only one biosynthesic pathway for monoterpenes, involving enzymes from the terpene synthase family. For the first time ever, scientists have shown a new biosynthetic pathway of these monoterpenes in roses: rather than activating terpene synthases, they activate an enzyme called nudix hydrolase (RhNUDX1). The scientists also showed that roses with no fragrance do not express the gene RhNUDX1.
This type of nudix hydrolase enzyme is known to be present in all living things, but had never before been associated with fragrance. For example, in Arabidopsis, a similar nudix hydrolase plays a part in eliminating toxins from cells during oxidative stress, thereby preventing genetic damage.

Fragrant rose. © Jean-Claude Caissard
Fragrant rose © Jean-Claude Caissard

Ultimately, these findings could help science to unlock the secret to the origins of rose fragrance, and in particular to find out if the specific function of RhNUDX1 appeared over the plant’s course of domestication or goes much further back in its evolution.  Moreover, these studies are shedding light on why so many roses do not have a scent (most often cut roses, bred for bouquets): they do not express RhNUDX1. Now that science has discovered this gene, it may well be used as a marker for selecting rose plants.  Consumers, in turn, may soon be able to count on their local florist shop for bouquets of fragrant roses without fail!

1. Participants in this study include: the Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology applied to aromatic and medicinal herbs (Jean Monnet University, University of Lyon) in Saint-Etienne; Plant reproduction and development division (INRA, CNRS, ENS Lyon and Claude Bernard University, Lyon 1) in Lyon; Vine health and wine quality division (INRA, University of Strasbourg); The Research Institute of Horticulture and Seeds (INRA, Agrocampus Ouest, University of Angers); Institute of Chemistry of Strasbourg (CNRS, University of Strasbourg).

Scientific contact(s):

  • Sylvie Baudino (33 (0)4 77 48 15 24) Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology applied to aromatic and medicinal herbs, Jean Monnet University, Saint-Etienne (University of Lyon)
  • Mohammed Bendahmane (33 (0)4 72 72 89 84) Plant reproduction and development division (INRA, CNRS, ENS Lyon and UCB Lyon 1) – INRA, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
  • Philippe Hugueney (33 (0)3 89 22 49 74) Vine health and wine quality division (INRA, University of Strasbourg) - INRA, Colmar
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (01 42 75 91 86)
Associated Division(s):
Plant Biology and Breeding


Biosynthesis of monoterpene scent compounds in roses. Jean-Louis Magnard, Aymeric Roccia, Jean-Claude Caissard, Philippe Vergne, Pulu Sun, Romain Hecquet, Annick Dubois, Laurence Hibrand-Saint Oyant, Frédéric Jullien, Florence Nicolè, Olivier Raymond, Stéphanie Huguet, Raymonde Baltenweck, Sophie Meyer, Patricia Claudel, Julien Jeauffre, Michel Rohmer, Fabrice Foucher, Philippe Hugueney, Mohammed Bendahmane and Sylvie Baudino, Science, 3 July 2015. DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0696