IRRI informs BD of rice research breakthrough after 9yrs

Published: December 03, 2017 18:45:43 | Updated: December 04, 2017 15:35:01

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has briefed Bangladesh's Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury about the groundbreaking progress of a new rice type.

Experts say the new variety, once released, would revolutionise the world's overall cereal production.

IRRI along with 17 world- renowned research groups from the 12 institutions in eight countries have been pursuing a 22-year rice engineering project and has got some early success this year after nine years of research.

The Agriculture Minister, during her recent visit to the IRRI headquarters in the Philippines, expressed her keen interest in the 'C4' rice, which is expected to increase the global rice production by 50 per cent.

A government press statement on Sunday said that Matia requested the IRRI to create opportunities for more Bangladeshi scientists to get involved in the frontier science in pursuit of phenomenal increase in rice output.

According to a UNB report, IRRI Director General Dr. Matthew Morell welcomed a Matia-led visiting Bangladesh delegation to the Institute on November 28 and said that IRRI would continue to work with Bangladesh to ensure collaborative and responsive programs for the rice sector are in place to meet the current and future needs of the country's rice industry, particularly for the vulnerable farmers and consumers.

IRRI scientists took Matia Chowdhury to a lab visit to show the progress of the rice called - C4, which is more energy efficient, meaning can convert sun power better in producing food.

Scientists have long been toying with the idea of engineering rice plant in a way that the global production of the cereal gets a dramatic boost. The idea came from the concern that the traditional research, which results in just one per cent rise in the yearly yield, would not be enough to meet the ever-growing demand.

So the plan was to convert rice into a photosynthesis-efficient plant, which would produce substantially more grains using the sunlight.

Nine years into the initiation of an ambitious rice plant engineering project, a group of scientists have recently declared a major breakthrough in improving photosynthesis for the cereal.

They said this would change the plant architecture of rice once for all, make it more energy-efficient and thereby, increase the yield of the world's third most consumed grain, after maize and wheat, by 50 per cent. It would eventually help meet the food needs of billions of people around the world, including Bangladesh.

During photosynthesis, plants take carbon dioxide, water, and light, and turn them into sugar and oxygen. The sugar is then used by the plants for food, and the oxygen is released into the atmosphere.

Rice uses the C3 photosynthetic pathway, which in hot and dry environments is much less efficient than the C4 pathway used by other plants such as maize, sugarcane and sorghum. Scientists thought that if rice could "switch" to use C4 photosynthesis, its productivity would increase by 50 per cent.

Scientists and researchers drawn from 12 institutions in eight countries declared on October 19 that they have achieved a major breakthrough by being able to engineer the rice plant accordingly. They are involved with the C4 Rice Project, often dubbed as "grand challenge" of the 21st century.

University of Oxford, one of the 12 institutions which are at the forefront of this multi-billion dollar project, said last month that the scientists have been able to infuse a single maize gene into rice leaf thereby finishing off the first step of converting rice into a C4 plant.

Over three billion people, including 160 million in Bangladesh, depend on rice for survival, and owing to predicted population increases and a general trend towards urbanisation, land that provided enough rice to feed 27 people in 2010 will need to support 43 by 2050.

The C4 Rice Project is an international collaboration between 18 research groups, from the 12 institutions in eight countries. The institutions are: Australian National University (Australia), University of Toronto (Canada), Chinese Academy of Sciences (China), Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and Heinrich Heine University (Germany), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) (the Philippines), Academia Sinica Institute of Molecular Biology (Taipei), University of Cambridge and University of Oxford (UK), Donald Danforth Center, Washington State University, and University of Minnesota (USA).

The C4 Rice Project was first conceived by John Sheehy, a plant physiologist who was the head of the Applied Photosynthesis Group at the IRRI from 1995 to 2009. The costs of the project were estimated to be about $5m per year.

In October 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded IRRI a grant of $11.1 million to begin the research. Currently the project is into its phase-III (2015-2019).

Experts noted that successful completion of engineering rice into a C4 plant would be a "game-changer" since the '60s of last century when scientists had first developed semi-dwarf rice varieties heralding the famous "Green Revolution".

The Bangladesh delegation that visited IRRI last week included Executive Chairman of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Center (BARC) Dr. Bhagya Rani Banik, Executive Director of the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF) Dr. Wais Kabir and Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Dr. Md. Shahjahan Kabir.

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