Advancing rice varieties to feed burgeoning world

June 4, 2016

It’s almost universally agreed that a perfect storm is developing and agriculture faces a gargantuan task - feeding the world’s population expected to approach the 10 billion mark by 2050.

And if that’s doable, the challenge is how to accomplish this while wrestling with variables including less land, water, farmer numbers, plus the impact of climate change.

The Arizona Genomics Institute (AGI) reports, “With increasing competition for land, water, and other resources, breeders must develop the next generation of crops that have less negative environmental impact and fewer input requirements.”

The Institute, based in Tucson adds, “Crops will be needed that grow with less water, fertilizer, pesticides, on poorer soils, and with less labor - and still produce high-yielding and highly-nutritious foods.”

Sounds like an impossible task, yet AGI Director Rod Wing is optimistic.

“Science will be there in time to meet this goal,” Wing says. “This is a problem we’re going to solve in our lifetime. It’s going to happen.”

He adds, “I’m an optimist and my motivation every day involves thinking about how to solve the dilemma and the impact our research will make on the agricultural world.”

Genomic sequencing

To date, the science developed by AGI researchers has been impressive, including building maps of genomes - the crucial foundation in genomic sequencing. This allows researchers to locate and identify genes to improve crops and increase yield to avert or at least minimize the looming global food crisis.

The AGI’s primary focus is on cereal crops, including rice, which comprise 60 percent of the human diet.

“Rice which already feeds half the world will play a huge role in this since the current rice-dependent population will double by 2050,” Wing says.

“Rice breeders are trying to develop new varieties that are higher yielding and more sustainable. We call these crops ‘Next Generation Super Crops’ or ‘Green Super Rice.’”

The AGI leader says rice is a good model system for studying other cereals since it has the smallest genome and is similar to wheat and maize.

In 2004, AGI scientists announced they had sequenced the African rice genome, the beginning of a much larger undertaking.

For more: ... ies-feed-burgeoning-world