Submitted to: International Innovation
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/13/2016
Publication Date: 1/14/2016
Citation: McClung, A.M. 2016. Progress in the paddy field. International Innovation. Pg. 1-4.
Technical Abstract: Rice feeds around 3.5 billion people and provides a significant proportion of calories for many of the world’s poor. The USA is a major producer and exporter of rice. The USDA/ARS Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center (DBNRRC) is located in the heart of the southern USA rice growing region in Arkansas, a state that produces half of the country’s rice. There are many factors affecting the production of rice, including biotic stresses, such as weeds and disease, and abiotic stresses, such as fluctuating temperatures, droughts and saline soils. Therefore, in a bid to locate the factors responsible for tolerance to such biotic and abiotic stresses, the DBNRRC team is investigating the rice genome. The starting point is at the rice seed bank, where there is access to an enormous wealth of diverse rice varieties that can be used to create new cultivars with specific desirable traits. The team is using rapid DNA sequencing technology to identify and understand the function of genes in rice cultivars from around the world. One of the targets is to strengthen crop resilience against the diseases rice blast and sheath blight. Farmers worldwide rely upon extensive application of fungicides to control these diseases. The DBNRRC team has uncovered new natural genes for resistance that make it possible to develop disease resistant rice cultivars through rice breeding. Food crops are impacted by their interaction with the environment, and current projections of a changing climate suggest that issues like temperature extremes, water availability and stress from saline soils will become limiting to rice production. In addition, the production of rice has been reported to be responsible for between 5 and 20 per cent of the world’s manmade sources of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas associated with climate warming. However, research has shown that rice varieties differ in methane emissions for, as yet, unclear reasons. Thus, it is encouraging that rice genetics can play an important role in reducing methane emissions. The team is also exploring rice varieties that are better for human health. By locating the genes responsible for mineral uptake and utilization, the DBNRRC scientists aim to develop new varieties of rice that naturally take up more minerals from the soil and concentrate them in the grain. In addition, while most rice has a brown bran outer layer, rice varieties from around the world can have deeply pigmented bran. Purple and red bran varieties possess unique levels of natural phytochemical compounds including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins (tannins) and other simple phenolics and flavonoids. Cell assay studies have shown that some of these compounds can have an inhibitory effect on some cancer cells. Thus, there are many opportunities for exploring the rice genome to better understand genes that may lead to the breeding of new rice varieties that will be better for the planet and human health.