For the first time ever, scientists have used the CRISPR gene-editing technology to drastically change the colour of a flower. A Japanese garden plant's colour was changed from violet to white using CRISPR, by altering a single gene.

The flower in question is the Japanese morning glory plant – the Ipomoea nil or Pharbitis nil. Researchers targeted a single gene, specifically the gene responsible for giving the flower its colour and altered the its appearance, without affecting the rest of the plant.

The scientists used the CRISPR/Cas9 technique to go about altering the flower's colour. The Cas9 enzyme is used to splice the DNA and allows scientists to essentially cut and paste genes with high precision.

"To our knowledge, this report is the first concerning flower colour changes in higher plants using CRISPR/Cas9 technology," the researchers said in their paper, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers chose the Japanese morning glory plant as it was already part of the National BioResource Project (NBRP) in Japan. In other words, scientists already knew about the plant's genetic coding.

The researchers targeted the dihydroflavonol-4-reductase-B (DFR-B) gene, which gives the flower its colour. The scientists essentially had to shut down the DFR-B gene, which produces the anthocyanin colour pigment, to turn the flower white.

The team was successfully able to grow 75% of the treated plant with white, instead of violet, petals. Also, there were no mutations observed in the neighbouring genes, which indicates the accuracy of the CRISPR/Cas9 technique.

"The successful results of the present study will facilitate the modification of flower colours and shapes with targeted mutagenesis in Ipomoea nil and other ornamental flowers or vegetables," the researchers said.

However, the study has implications beyond just potentially changing the colours of flora and fauna, which could raise some concerns about how the technology could potentially be used in the future.

However, for now, the researchers plan on using their study to promote the accuracy and further potential of CRISPR/Cas9.

CRISPR flower colour changed
The Cas9 enzyme is used to splice the DNA and allows scientists to essentially cut and paste genes with high precision University of Tsukuba