Rice farmers in Asia may no longer need to fear monsoon season’s devastating floods. Japanese scientists have identified genes that allow deepwater rice to grow hollow “snorkels” to avoid drowning, and have also introduced those genes into other rice variants.
The deepwater rice normally grows to about one meter (3.3 ft) tall, but can respond to flooding by quickly extending the stem several meters more. Researchers announced their findings regarding the genes SNORKEL1 and SNORKEL2 in the journal Nature, and described how the genes help regulate the signaling of ethylene response factors that help trigger growth in the rice plant. They also combined the best of rice variants by introducing the genes into non-deepwater rice that produces higher yield.
BBC reports that the new variants could improve rice production in flood-prone areas such as Asia and Africa, where up to 40 percent of the rice crop experiences flash floods or deep water. The more flood-tolerant rice variants can grow by up to 25 cm (9.8 in) per day.
Such cross-breeding and genetic engineering efforts hardly represent a new concept for food scientists and agriculturalists. For instance, some researchers previously looked at introducing the hardiness of weeds into food crops. But if the best of what exists in nature can combine into a new form of super rice, that’s definitely something.