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Colombian scientist aims to unlock genetic secrets of how orchids bloom

Colombian biologist Yesenia Madrigal Bedoya explores the genes and conditions that make orchids flower — and finding answers could help create new sustainable cut-flower markets and protect the species being over-harvested in the wild.

Madrigal, a PhD candidate student at University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, says her current project is focused on the genetic basis for the flowering of Colombian orchids, that is, the genes controlling the transition from vegetative to reproductive phases.

"Orchids are one of the most wonderful and diverse ornamental angiosperms (flowering plants), but their vegetative phases can be excessively long, rendering them unwanted in the floral cut global market," she says, adding that she also looked at the key environmental cues involved in triggering flowering.

"If we are able to identify candidate genes controlling floral transition, we can set up the basis to understand our biodiversity and manage it for potential sustainable exploitation," Madrigal says.  

The country of orchids
With about 29,000 species, orchids are one of the most diverse groups of ornamental plants within the flowering plants (angiosperms). Colombia has about 5,000 species, with some species threatened by over-harvesting of wild specimens.

At present, the orchid floral trade is restricted to only three species of Asian origin, there is a poor standardization of optimal flowering conditions for other species with ornamental potential and the trafficking of exotic species in the illegal market is associated with the massive extraction of wild species.

Madrigal says one goal is to bring more varieties into the trade global market with desired features, reducing the impact on wild populations and contributing in a strong and forceful manner to the conservation of these plants.

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