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Scientists discover wonder rice gene

  • Published at 02:31 pm December 3rd, 2013
Scientists discover wonder rice gene

Scientists have discovered a wonder rice gene that could dramatically increase yields of one of the world’s most important food crops, the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (Irri) said yesterday.

Preliminary tests show that yields of modern long-grain “indica” rice varieties, the world’s most widely-grown types of rice, can rise by 13-36% when infused with the so-called SPIKE gene, the institute said.

Increasing the yield means growing more rice on the same amount of land, using the same resources. But there is no definite timetable for when the rice would be distributed to farmers, according to Irri spokeswoman Gladys Ebron.

The findings of the study were published Monday, says a statement.

Testing of new rice varieties infused with the gene was underway across several developing countries in Asia, said rice breeder Tsutomu Ishimaru, head of the Irri-led SPIKE breeding programme.

The SPIKE gene was first discovered by Japanese breeder Nobuya Kobayashi following long-running research starting in 1989 on a tropical “japonica” rice variety that is grown in Indonesia, Ebron told the AFP.

Tropical japonica rice is mainly grown in East Asia and accounts for just 10 percent of global rice production.

Breeders from Irri, a non-profit research group established in the 1960s, then worked to incorporate the gene into “indica” varieties that are widely used in major rice-growing areas of Asia.

Ebron said: “It’s just conventional breeding.”

Rice is the developing world’s most important food crop, consumed by more than half of humanity, including 640m Asians who live in poverty, according to Irri. To keep rice prices stable and affordable at about $300 a tonne, the institute estimates production needs to increase by 8-10m tonnes every year. Asia accounts for about 90% of global rice production, it added.

The Irri is widely recognised as having played an important role in the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s in which new varieties of rice dramatically increased yields.

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