Friday, June 19, 2009

IRRI developing waterproof rice to ease climate-change effects

Manila Bulletin (Philippines): Sigrid Heuer is doing her bit to help feed the world. The 43-year-old German molecular biologist breeds new rice varieties, which can survive boiling heat, floods or exhausted soils. Rice is the main foodstuff for 3 billion people, 90 percent of them in Asia. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños in Laguna province works on the front line of agricultural crop research, as climate change threatens millions of hectares of farmland.

A rice variety developed by IRRI that is capable of surviving floods has just been approved for release in the Philippines and parts of India, a success for the research center and the result of 20 years' development work by the scientists.

Heuer contentedly surveys her research paddy outside IRRI's headquarters located at two-hour drive south-east of Manila. Twenty plots are set up on a 5-by-20-meter field grid. The scientist grows different rice varieties, with and without the submergence1-gene variation, or Sub1, which ''waterproofs'' the plants.

…''What we are doing is a mix of classic plant breeding and new technologies,'' Heuer explained. The submergence- tolerant gene variant was found in a certain Indian rice variety in the lab, isolated and then interbred with the high-yield variety IR64, also developed by the IRRI.

…IRRI, a non-profit organization, does not register patents for its rice breeds. ''Rice is being farmed in coastal regions and river deltas, like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam,'' said biologist Reiner Wassman, who coordinates the IRRI's climate change research. ''If ocean levels rise, it affects rice more than any other crop. More people are dependent on good rice harvests than any other grain.''….

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