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Kernel of Carolina Gold rice.
Scientists are helping to bring back Carolina Gold, an heirloom variety. It was the world's most sought-after rice during the colonial era.
Image courtesy Mickey Frank, Texas A&M Research and Extension Center, Beaumont, Texas.

ARS Scientists Aid Revival of Historic American Rice

By Alfredo Flores
August 18, 2005

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who have developed molecular markers to "fingerprint" rice cultivars are helping to bring back an heirloom crop that was once called "America's First Rice."

The rice, called Carolina Gold, was popular in the South during the Colonial Era. Now, as part of an effort to bring new attention to this rice, ARS geneticist Anna M. McClung will discuss her research to identify Carolina Gold during the Carolina Gold Symposium, which starts today and runs until August 20 in Charleston, S.C.

McClung, research leader of the ARS Rice Research Unit at Beaumont, Texas, has played a major role in refining Carolina Gold using genetic markers in an effort to help the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to the sustainable restoration and preservation of this and other heirloom grains, and to increased awareness of the importance of historic croplands and heirloom agriculture. The Carolina Gold Symposium is the foundation's key annual meeting.

McClung and ARS plant molecular geneticist Robert Fjellstrom at Beaumont have developed molecular markers that can be used to fingerprint rice cultivars. After evaluating over1,600 cultivars, or accessions, the RM190 genetic marker–linked to the gene that controls rice starch –was effective at distinguishing Carolina Gold and its derivatives from other accessions.

This and several other markers have been used to purify the heirloom cultivar into what is now called Carolina Gold Select. Working with Anson Mills of Columbia, S.C., and the Texas Rice Improvement Association of Beaumont, Texas, Carolina Gold Select is being grown commercially for use in a niche market. McClung will present her latest research on the cultivar at the conference.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.