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Scientists discover `super gene` that boosts rice yields

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 22:40

Manila: A rice gene that can increase the production of indica rice varieties, which includes basmati, by up to 36 per cent, has been discovered by a group of international scientists.

Most of the rice produced in Southern Asia, including India and Thailand, is indica rice.

In preliminary testing, researchers from Japan and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) here found that incorporating the SPIKE gene increased the yields of modern long-grain indica rice varieties - the world`s most widely grown types of rice - by 13 to 36 per cent.

The use of SPIKE in rice breeding could contribute to food security in indica-growing regions such as South and Southeast Asia, researchers said.

"Our work showed that SPIKE is indeed one of the major genes responsible for the yield increase that breeders have spent many years searching for," said Dr Inez Slamet-Loedin, head of IRRI`s Genetic Transformation Laboratory.

"We discovered the gene, SPIKE, in an Indonesian tropical japonica rice variety," said rice breeder Dr Nobuya Kobayashi of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization - Institute of Crop Science in Japan.

Kobayashi is a former IRRI scientist seconded from the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS).

Tropical japonica rice is mainly grown in East Asia and accounts for only about 10 per cent of global rice production.

"Using a new approach of combining molecular identification of the SPIKE gene and conventional breeding, we have developed rice, with the SPIKE gene, that has higher yield when compared with an equivalent rice without the gene," Kobayashi said.

Breeders at IRRI, a non-profit research group, are now using SPIKE to boost the yield potential of leading local rice varieties.

"Testing of new rice varieties that have the SPIKE gene is under way in multilocation trials across several developing countries in Asia, including Indonesia," said Dr Tsutomu Ishimaru, an IRRI and JIRCAS rice breeder who is leading the work to develop new varieties with the SPIKE gene.

The gene discovery is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America (PNAS).

First Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 22:40
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