Fingerprinting process offers patent protection option.

Every year poinsettia growers race to develop new colors, bigger plant forms, greater disease-resistance, or longevity. During the past few years, purveyors have even offered artificially painted, glittered, and variously tinted offerings to broaden sales and boost earnings.

More than 175 patented poinsettia cultivars have been named by various breeders and registered under the Plant Protection Act—and sometimes new or unusual ones are illegally reproduced and sold.

Two pathologists at North Carolina State University have found a way to trick the trade in stolen poinsettias. The NCSU researchers have uncovered molecular markers that are like poinsettias’ genetic fingerprints. The technology provides a genetic trail that can catch a poinsettia theif.

Though the findings have been intriguing and may open some new lines of research, the economics of poinsettia patent protection aren’t likely to allow widespread use of the technology, according to the researchers Elizabeth Parks and James Moyer.

Parks, research analyst in the NCSU Department of Plant Pathology, and Moyer, professor and head of that department, have published their poinsettia findings in the Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science.

The best way to identify the family history of plants, such as poinsettias, uses amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP). The AFLP technology is owned by a Dutch firm, Keygene, a service provider in the genetic analysis of plants, animals, and micro-organisms.

The NCSU scientists said the primary value of their work has been to demonstrate the proof-of-concept: fingering the ideal poinsettia genetic fingerprint, if and when it’s needed. So far it doesn’t look like a candidate for a for-profit spinoff venture, they say.

So even if poinsettia printing never becomes a blockbuster patent-protection pursuit, the NCSU scientists have contributed some understanding of America’s most popular potted plant that rings up more than 60 million sales each holiday season worth $270 million.

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