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Flowers benefit from anti-aging products

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People who value their looks often turn to anti-aging products for help. But did you know that these products can help flowers as well?

This news comes from University of California - Riverside (UCR) researchers who have found the reason why these products delay the wilting of flowers.

The team is headed by Michael Pirrung, a professor of chemistry and the holder of the UC Presidential Chair in Chemistry. Other members of the team are Yunfan Zou of UCR; Anthony B. Bleecker and Brad M. Binder of the University of Wisconsin; Yoshihisa Inoue and Norimitsu Sugawara of Osaka University, Japan; Fernando I. Rodriguez of BD Biosciences, Puerto Rico; and Takehiko Wada of Tohoku University, Japan.

It's common knowledge that flowers don't last forever. Even with the best care, they normally wilt and die in a few days. This is caused by ethylene, a gas they produce naturally.

To delay this, growers spray flowers with anti-aging products that block ethylene. These products delay wilting because of a compound called 1-methylcyclopropane or 1-MCP. How this works has remained a mystery - until now.

In a paper published in the journal Chemistry & Biology, Pirrung said 1-MCP apparently causes a chemical reaction in plant cells that is responsible for extending the life of flowers.

"Plant cells possess copper-containing ethylene binding sites called ethylene receptors. (An ethylene receptor is a protein that sits in the cell membrane and has a site for binding ethylene on the outside of the cell.) If ethylene comes into contact with the receptor, it binds chemically with the copper, which inactivates the receptor. The inactivation results in the cell breaking down, which, in turn, initiates aging and the death of plant tissues," explained ScienceDaily.Com.

"1-MCP works by beating ethylene to the receptors. By binding with a sufficient number of receptors chemically and permanently, it forever makes them insensitive to ethylene. The plants do not 'perceive' ethylene thereafter, preventing ripening and wilting," it added.

Pirrung's research is a blessing to many people, particularly florists and consumers, because it will allow us to preserve the freshness of flowers way beyond their natural lives.

The challenge now is in developing a new way to administer the unstable 1-MCP to flowers. Likewise, researchers are hoping to design new compounds that work in addition to 1-MCP.

"Such compounds would enable much more widespread treatment of fruits, flowers and vegetables to prevent their spoiling," he said.

Until researchers come up with all the answers, the best we can do now is to wait and follow the conventional methods of prolonging the life of flowers. That includes putting them in a clean vase of water, using commercial flower food and putting them away from heat or light sources.

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