Washington: In a quest to feed the world`s spiralling population as climate change worsens, Japanese biotechnologists have developed a rice plant with deeper roots that can sustain high yields in droughts that wipe out conventional rice crops.
A team led by Yusaku Uga of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, described the finding of a remarkable gene in a rice plant cultivated in the dry uplands of the Philippines.
This rice strain has roots that are deep and grow straight downward, boring into parched soil for water, as opposed to root systems that are shallow and grow out laterally in typical water-rich paddy fields.
The gene for this called "deep rooting"- dubbed DRO1- was spliced into a cultivar called IR64, a paddy rice plant grown around Asia.
The team then put the new plant through its paces, planting both it and standard IR64 in upland fields in three kinds of conditions- no drought, moderate drought and severe drought.
Moderate drought reduced yield of IR64 to just 42 percent in no-drought conditions. Severe drought destroyed it.
But IR64 with the DRO1 gene was almost unaffected by moderate drought. In severe drought, yield fell - but not catastrophically - by around 30 percent.
The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.