DNA sequencing to create new rice variety
DNA techniques are being used to analyse genes in rice in pioneering research that aims to develop a new variety of the grain with greater health benefits.
University of Aberdeen scientists are leading the rice study which is also investigating how to reduce the amount of water required in rice production, to make the grain a more sustainable food option for the future. Rice is relied upon as a sustenance food by half of the world's population.
Experts behind the four-year project – funded by a £1.2M grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) – say they hope their work could improve of the lives of millions worldwide, by putting better quality rice in the mouths of more people.
Professor Andrew Meharg, a biogeochemist at the University of Aberdeen, and one of the leads on the study which involves collaborators from Lancaster, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, said, "We will be employing one of the most pioneering developments in plant science – genome sequencing of plants.
"In fact we will be using the very same equipment and chemistry that is used to sequence genes in the human body, to analyse genes within rice.
"Our work is focused on Bangladesh, where rice accounts for 70 per cent of the population's calorific intake. We plan to sequence the genes of 300 varieties of rice from the country and surrounding Indian states.
"What we will be looking for are markers in each of those individual rice types which can be associated with a positive trait we wish to measure.
"For example those that can be attributed to providing a greater yield of the crop or higher levels of zinc. One important trait we will focus on is lower levels of grain arsenic. Arsenic, which is a poison to humans, is taken up by the crop from ground water during the growth process and can sometimes occur at high levels in rice.
"If we can identify the genes responsible in rice for these positive traits then we can improve crops more rapidly and accurately and ultimately develop a new type of rice which has greater benefits for the world's population."
The study will also test a technique developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which aims to reduce the amount of water currently required in the process of rice production.
Adam Price, Ph.D., University of Aberdeen's School of Biological Sciences, explained, "Rice is relied upon as a staple part of the majority of the world's diet, yet the process involved in growing this crop is accountable for a massive drain on the world's water resources.
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