Rice plants with a newly discovered gene send their roots deeper into the soil than those without it. The gene is called DRO1, with the DR standing for deeper rooting, reported Steve Baragona in an article posted on Voice of America.com.

Japanese researchers discovered the gene and quantified that rice plants without DRO1 produced 60 percent less rice than other varieties in drought conditions, Baragona also wrote.

“This group of authors has identified a gene that seems to be of pretty significant importance,” said Julia Bailey-Serres, a rice researcher at the University of California-Riverside, who was not involved in the study but quoted by Baragona.

The contention is that anywhere in the world under severe drought conditions rice without the DRO1 have shown to result in near zero rice production while varieties with the DRO1 yielded some harvestable rice.

“There was only 30 percent grain yield in this new rice variety under that condition (drought), but still, comparing zero to 30 is quite a significant insurance policy for the farmer,” said Bailey-Serres.

She is quoted as saying that it could take only a few years to introduce this gene to shallow-rooting rice varieties around the world.

The Japanese researchers have acknowledged that other crops, such as corn, have genes similar to DRO1, which may prove useful in adapting them to drought conditions as well.