Rice research may help shore-up global food supplies

High-yield rice resistant to some of the worst crop-destroying diseases could soon be produced in Australia and across the world.

A University of Adelaide researcher has taken part in a global study that has identified a new gene variant in a type of rice that can be modified to improve the performance of the crop.

“Rice is the most widely grown crop in the world but serious bacterial and fungal diseases such as rice blast and bacterial blight are a major threat to the industry,” Associate Professor Jenny Mortimer said.

“By identifying a specific gene called RBL1, we may have cracked the code for developing rice crops that are resistant to these destructive diseases without the yield penalties often associated with disease resistance.”

In an international collaboration led by researchers at Huazhong Agricultural University in China and the University of California, Davis researchers identified a rice variety that already had strong resistance to fungal and bacterial diseases but produced poor grain yields.

They showed that it had a mutated RBL1 gene.

Using existing genome-editing technology, the team then generated 57 gene variants and tested their immunity against several strains of rice blast and bacterial blight.

“We found that one variant of RBL1 had broad-spectrum disease resistance but unlike other varieties, it was still able to produce large yields in small-scale field trials,” Dr Mortimer said.

“This is an exciting development because rice is a staple food for more than a third of the world’s population and crop disease is a constant threat.”

Dr Mortimer said while more field trials were required, rice crops with higher yields were needed to meet growing global demand.

The research results have been published in the journal Nature.


Tim Dornin
(Australian Associated Press)


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