Science and art work together to resurrect extinct flower scents

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In Venice, visitors to the 17th International Architecture Exhibition have the opportunity to sample scents from flowers that were rendered extinct by human development. 

In an installation called Resurrecting the Sublime, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, with the help of synthetic biology firm Ginkgo Bioworks and scent researcher Sissel Tolaas, showcase scents from three plants: Hibiscadelphus wilderianus Rock, or Maui hau kuahiwi, which grew in ancient lava fields in Maui, Hawaii and were “decimated” by colonial cattle ranching; Orbexilum stipulatum, last seen in Kentucky in 1881 and considered extinct after its habitat was completely destroyed in the 1920s by construction of a dam; and Leucadendron grandiflorum, a flower from Cape Town that was lost to colonial vineyards.

Ginsberg tells Scientific American that Ginkgo’s creative director Christina Agapakis obtained small tissue samples of extinct flowers from Harvard University’s archives and used Ginkgo’s synthetic biology platform to recreate the scents. “[H]undreds of thousands of people around the world have not experienced a memory of a lost flower,” Ginsberg adds.