The blue rose has long been referred to by horticulturalists as the "Holy Grail" of the plant breeding world. Now what is being described as the world’s first genetically-modified blue rose is about to hit flower shops in Japan.
A Japanese firm has announced it will be the first to put the unique flower on sale to the public - at a not-to-be-sniffed-at 2,000 and 3,000 yen per stem, about 10 times more expensive than normal.
Genetically, there is no natural blue pigmentation in the rose to allow a true blue rose to be bred by conventional methods. But in 2004, whisky distiller Suntory said it had succeeded in developing natural blue roses.
With Australian biotech company Florigene, it said it spliced into roses the gene that leads to the synthesis of the blue pigment Delphinidin in petunias.
Helen Bostock, a horticulture advisor at the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, says that while a true-blue rose sounds fabulous, it could stand out like a "sore thumb".
She is doubtful that a blue rose would be anything other than a novelty. "A red rose signifies passion, but blue is a bit cold in my book."
Holy Grail：名詞，傳說中耶穌在最後晚餐中所使用的聖杯，小寫時常指極難找到或取得的東西。例句：Sustained nuclear fusion is the holy grail of the power industry.（持續核融合是核能工業最終極的目標。）
stand out/stick out like a sore thumb：片 語，指因與周遭環境格格不入而引起注意。例句：Kenny stuck out like a sore thumb at the party. He was the only person wearing a suit and a tie.（肯尼在派對裡引人側目，他是全場唯一一個穿西裝打領帶的人。）
in my book：片語，（非正式用法）指依我的看法、我認為。例句：She’s never lied to me, and in my book that counts for a lot.（她從不曾對我說謊，我認為這可算得上彌足珍貴。）
Japan Airlines survival hinges on pension cuts
By Chikafumi Hodo - Analysis
TOKYO (Reuters) - Five years after retiring from Japan Airlines Corp (9205.T), former pilot Tsutomu Watanabe is fighting to protect the pension he was promised but that the airline can no longer afford to pay.
JAL's pension shortfall, which it estimated at 330 billion yen ($3.6 billion) in March, is threatening to push Asia's largest airline into bankruptcy unless its 9,000 retirees are forced to have their payouts cut, lawyers and analysts said.
"My pension contract is settled and I have my certificate," said the 65-year old Watanabe, who logged more than 18,000 hours in international flights during his career.
"People are calling for JAL pensioners to accept a cut in payouts, but is it wrong for me to say I don't want my pension to be reduced? I have a right to receive it."
JAL said last week it would apply for aid from a state-backed turnaround fund. It could receive a large injection of public money from the fund if it can secure the backing of creditors and come up with a viable restructuring plan.
That plan hinges on addressing its pension problem, for which there is no obvious solution.
JAL President Haruka Nishimatsu made a plea to the company's pension fund in May for payments to be reduced by more than half, and the airline has already factored a 88 billion yen gain from the move into its profit forecasts for this financial year.
A government-led task force that had been working on a JAL revival plan estimated the shortfall could be cut to 100 billion yen if the annual interest rate on pension reserves was cut to 1.5 percent from 4.5 percent, sources have told Reuters.
These proposals have triggered strong opposition from retirees and employees, who under current laws can easily block any cuts to their benefits if just one third of them vote against.
To get around this, the government is considering legislation that would allow JAL to forcibly cut payouts, but implementation would be tricky as it could be interpreted as violating a constitutional protection of personal property rights.
Not all agree.
"I don't think it's unconstitutional and the argument about requiring a reduction in pension is a valid one," said Kazumasa Otsuka, a lawyer specializing in corporate legal affairs at Mitsui Company. "If this can't be accepted, then there is little choice but for JAL's debt to be handled in (bankruptcy) court."
A JAL spokesman said the airline was working with the state-backed Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation of Japan and could not comment on the possibility of a court-led restructuring to deal with the pension issue.A bankruptcy would likely cause more pain for creditors, which include the state-owned Development Bank of Japan and the country's top three private banks.
The task force has estimated creditors could recover just 2-3 percent of their loans in bankruptcy, as opposed to 20-30 percent if the restructuring were out of court.
Dealing with JAL is also proving to be a headache for the Democratic Party, which came to power in August on a platform that promised to focus on the sometimes conflicting interests of protecting workers and prudent use of taxpayer funds.
While Transport Minister Seiji Maehara and other leading party figures have repeatedly said they would like to keep JAL out of bankruptcy, some party officials are pushing the option of a court-led restructuring, sources have said.
A politician in the Democratic Party recently sent a list of questions to Japanese law firm TMI Associates asking how pension cuts could be made in the case of a bankruptcy.
According to a document obtained by Reuters, TMI responded that in theory the pension obligations could be slashed by two thirds if JAL's restructuring were handled by the courts.
JAL pension woes underscore a larger problem facing Japanese firms.
Many have set payouts at similar levels as JAL and are struggling to deliver the promised returns with interest rates pegged near zero for more than a decade.
JAL's pension shortfall was the 10th largest among 400 big listed firms in a recent survey by the Nikkei newspaper.
Electronics conglomerate Hitachi Ltd (6501.T) had the biggest deficit at 687 billion yen, followed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (9432.T) with 576 billion yen and chipmaker Toshiba Corp (6502.T) with a shortfall of 545 billion yen.
A website set up by Watanabe and other JAL retirees shows that more than 40 percent of 9,000 people receiving and in line to receive benefits have signed an online petition against pension cuts, which puts them above the one-third threshold.
But retirees may find it hard to garner public support.
"There is the belief that all stakeholders, including existing employees and retirees, should share the burden together, but it's especially hard for retirees to accept this," said a pension consultant, who asked not to be identified.
"JAL's retirees will bring this to a court case if the government crafts a special law for JAL to cut pensions," he said. "If this happens it will take a long time to settle."