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Sunday, 20 March 2011

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Flood-tolerant rice plants can also survive drought

Rice, which is sensitive to drought due to its high water requirement, is particularly vulnerable to how global climate change is altering the frequency and magnitude of floods and droughts. If however rice plants' combined tolerance to flooding and drought could be improved, rice productivity could be protected and even substantially increased.

Now plant scientists at the University of California, Riverside have made a discovery that can greatly benefit rice growers and consumers everywhere.

The researchers have demonstrated in the lab and greenhouse that rice that is flood-tolerant is also better able to recover from a drought."Flood tolerance does not reduce drought tolerance in these rice plants, and appears to even benefit them when they encounter drought," said Julia Bailey-Serres, a Professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, who led the research project.

Bailey-Serres and her team - Takeshi Fukao, a senior researcher, and Elaine Yeung, an undergraduate student - focused on Sub1A, a gene responsible for flood or "submergence" tolerance in rice, and is found only in some low-yielding rice varieties in India and Sri Lanka. Sub1A works by making the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede.

A gene can survive more than two weeks of complete submergence.Plant breeders have already benefited farmers worldwide - especially in South Asia - by having transferred Sub1A into high-yielding rice varieties without compromising these varieties' desirable traits - such as high yield, good grain quality, and pest and disease resistance.

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