Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Reveal Why Black Rice is Black

September 30, 2015

Scientists from two institutions in Japan have revealed why black rice is black. Also called "Emperor's rice" because it was reserved only for the Emperor in ancient China, black rice has gained popularity worldwide for its high levels of antioxidants.

The research team worked to meticulously examine the genetic basis for the black color in rice grains. They discovered that the trait arose due to a rearrangement in a gene called Kala4, which activates the production of anthocyanins. They concluded that this rearrangement must have originally occurred in the tropical japonica subspecies of rice and that the black rice trait was then transferred into other varieties (including those found today) by crossbreeding.

According to the study's lead scientist, Dr. Takeshi Izawa, "The birth and spread of novel agronomical traits during crop domestication are complex events in plant evolution." This new work on black rice helps explain the history of domestication of rice by ancient humans, during which they selected for desirable traits including grain color.

For more details, read the news release, or read the abstract of their paper published in The Plant Cell.