‘Snorkel’ genes, boon for rice output in flooded areas of India

August 31st, 2009 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 31 (IANS) Researchers have identified a couple of genes that could script a new story of rice production in India and Bangladesh and Asia in general.
The two genes allow deep-water rice varieties to elongate their stems to be above the rising water level, especially during floods, instead of drowning in it.

Transposing genes ‘Snorkel1′ and ‘Snorkel2′ into varieties that drown in deep water, these genes switched on the process by which their stems elongated.

About 30 percent of rice acreage in Asia and 40 percent in Africa are rain-fed paddies exposed to fluctuating water levels.

Motoyuki Ashikari, professor at the Bioscience and Biotechnology Centre at Nagoya University, who led the research, told SciDev.Net that the two genes and their molecular mechanism were previously unknown.

He is hopeful about the team’s work in boosting rice output in flood-prone areas, and that he is now aiming to develop new, high-yielding varieties with deep-water characteristics.

Thirteen years ago, David Mackill, now head of the plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, and his then graduate student Xu Kenong announced the discovery of a gene, Sub 1A, that allowed an Indian variety to survive submersion for more than two weeks.

Last December, researchers said that the rice, known as ’scuba’ rice, had passed its field tests with “flying colours,” said a SciDev.Net release.

Ashikari said Sub1A is effective for short periods of flooding, but SNORKEL1 and SNORKEL2 function in heavy, long-duration floods.

These findings were reported in the August edition of Nature.

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