Biotech Updates

Flood-resistant Rice Set for Distribution in Southeast Asia

April 24, 2009

A lot of farming families and poor consumers who look to rice for their food see flooding as a horrible disaster. But rice breeders have been aware of FR13A, a rice variety that could withstand more than a week's worth of flooding and still have a significant recovery. It was during the 1980s when Dr. David Mackill, a plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), saw the potential of adapting the flood-resistant trait of FR13A (FR meaning 'flood-resistant') into the modern high-yielding rice varieties being planted in flood-prone areas all over Asia.

Initially, Dr. Mackill and his team of IRRI breeders failed in releasing the rice variety to the farmers, mainly because during the transfer of the flood-resistant gene from FR13A to the recipient rice variety, there were other genes that were transported as well. It was only when Dr. Mackill and his graduate student Kenong Xu discovered a precise stretch of DNA (called SUB1) when they began to make progress. Dr. Xu and his wife Xia, with the help of Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis researcher, were able to locate the specific gene (which was named SUB1A) that was responsible for making FR13A flood-resistant.

After painstaking research and testing in the rice fields in Bangladesh, a new rice variety carrying the SUB1 trait was released, called Swarna Sub1. The results have all been positive, and within two years, IRRI plans to release at least two more rice varieties under their project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With the success of the research on SUB1, researchers are hoping to be able to address other abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity.

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