As the world’s population soars above 7 billion, the threat of severe drought weighs heavily on global food supply. To help in the fight against worsening climate change, scientists in Japan have bred a new strain of rice that can survive severe droughts that have been plaguing and wiping out out staple rice crops around the world.
The key characteristic of this new rice strain, Kinandang Patong, is a deep rooting gene (DR01) that gives it an advantage over conventional rice strains, which typically have shallow and sideways-growing root systems. Scientists at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba discovered the unusual gene in a dry upland rice variety in the Philippines, which they then spliced into IR64, a popular rice cultivar widely grown around Asia. Root growth in the new rice strain bores straight down to soak up water and nutrients from deeper soil layers.
Testing results show that when compared to the conventional strain (which is easily susceptible to drought), the new deep rooting rice strain was almost unaffected by moderate drought – and yields only fell by around 30% in cases of severe drought. Scientists hope to release this new variety of drought-resistant rice in Asian countries soon, and they are working on introducing the DR01 gene to leading rice varieties in Latin American countries.
Lead photo © Yusmar Yahaya