London: Researchers have discovered a gene from wild Indian rice plants that can help in significantly raising the yield of common varieties in soils that are poor in nutrients.
Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) identified a gene that helps uptake of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, and transferred it into commercial strains.
They found that their yield was about 60 percent above normal in phosphorus-poor soils.
The gene was found in a variety called Kasalath, which is native to nutrient-poor soils of eastern India.
Almost 10 years ago, scientists had deduced that Kalasath contained one or more genes that allowed it to grow successfully in low-phosphorus conditions.
It took the Irri team three years to identify the gene, which they have named PSTOL1, responsible.
“We got the [DNA] sequence of this region, but the region is very complex and it was very difficult to identify what is an actual gene and what is not,” the BBC quoted lead researcher Sigrid Heuer as saying.
“There’s so much work being done on phosphorus pathways and we could never find the genes and the mechanisms, and actually it’s very simple - the gene promotes larger root growth, so the plant takes up nutrients more easily,” Heuer said.
Although the researchers focussed on just one key nutrient, they found that the faster root growth also helped uptake of nitrogen and potassium, which are also vital for the development of plants.
Later, they used genetic engineering to transfer PSTOL1 into plants from two main rice lineages - indica and japonica.
When they were raised in phosphorus-poor soils, their yields were about 60 percent higher than un-modified plants.
The study has been published in the journal Nature.