Filipino and foreign agriculture experts join hands in developing new rice variety vs. shortage, famine

May 27, 2010 8:36 pm 

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, May 27 -– Rice is the most important staple in the world for human consumption. It is also the most popular main course for Filipinos.

Over the past 40 years, its production has kept pace with the increase in population in Asia and throughout the world.

A major multinational scientific and academic effort is taking place here as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is developing a new approach to boost rice production and avoid potential rice shortages, or even future famine, IRRI officials said Thursday.

IRRI officials disclosed it as the C4 Rice Project. The research effort is carried in this vast rice research complex with the help of an initial US$ 11 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Prof. Mary Jacqueline Dionora, senior associate scientist of IRRI's Crop and Environmental Sciences, said Filipino scientists here, aided by dozens of counterparts from around the world, are producing the C4 rice variety that will need less water and fertilizer.

Dionora said it will yield 50 percent more grain than the best present-day varieties.

"Rice has what is known as a C3 photosynthetic pathway which is less efficient than that of maize, sugar cane or sorghum which have what is known as a C4 pathway," Dionora told a group of foreign and local journalists who went here for a farm tour.

The IRRI scientist said the goal is to genetically modify rice into a C4 photosynthesis plant, like maize so it can absorb sunlight faster, use less water and require less fertilizer.

The challenge for the scientists is trying to find the gene that controls the rice plant’s photosynthetic engine so it can be tweaked.

Dionora said the research could take for about five years but she's confident they will be successful.

She said it is clear that the gains of the first Green Revolution are largely exhausted.

Rice with C4 photosynthesis could make a major contribution to a second Green Revolution.

To assess how that change could affect rice, it is necessary to understand how the rice crop works.

Converting the photosynthetic system in rice to the more efficient, supercharged C4 one used by maize would increase rice yields while using scarce resources (land, water, fertilizer) more effectively.

However a technological innovation of this magnitude requires the skills and technologies of a global alliance of multidisciplinary partners from advanced institutions.

In 2008, IRRI formed the International C4 Rice Consortium. It is made up of scientist working together to understand the genes responsible for different photosynthesis mechanisms in plants.

Ultimately, the consortium hopes to find a way to replace the photosynthetic mechanism in rice with a more efficient mechanism in an attempt to meet worldwide demand for this staple cereal. (PNA) LOR/JCA

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