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Drought-tolerant genes found for rice

A University of Alberta researcher has identified genes that will allow dryland rice varieties to yield up to 100 per cent more during severe droughts.

Ph.D. student Jerome Bernier’s findings, published recently in the plant sciences journal Euphytica, may help double the output of rice crops in some of the world’s poorest, most distressed areas, the university said in a release Friday.

Bernier conducted his research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, in conjunction with scientists there and in India.

The finding of this group of genes could potentially bring relief to farmers in such countries as India and Thailand, where crops of rice, the number one food consumed by humans, are regularly faced with drought.

Bernier’s work, which began four years ago, focused on upland rice, which, unlike most rice crops, grows in non-flooded, dry fields. “If drought hits, the yield can drop to almost nothing,” he said.

In severe drought conditions, rice strains with these genes were shown to produce twice as much as those strains that didn’t have the genes, the university said. The new genes stimulate the rice plant to develop deeper roots to access water further underground.

Less loss to drought may also mean an increased supply of rice globally, said Dean Spaner, Bernier’s project supervisor and a professor of agricultural, food and nutritional science at the U of A, in the same release.

Bernier’s research was funded in part by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the U of A noted.

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