IRRI scientists seeks to unlock genetic diversity of rice

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Los Banos (Philippines), July 24 (ANI): By looking at what different types of rice have in common, a team of international scientists are unlocking rice's genetic diversity to help conserve it and find valuable rice genes to help improve rice production.

Rice is the world's most important food crop. Understanding its valuable genetic diversity and using it to breed new rice varieties will provide the foundation for improving rice production in the future and securing global food supplies.

Recently,a research team scrutinized the genomes of twenty different types of genetically diverse rice used in international breeding.

"We are hunting for snippets of DNA, called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, that distinguish these rice," says Dr. Ken McNally from the International Rice Research Institute.

"The collection of SNPs that we have found is the most extensive in rice to date. If the rice types share a favorable trait, like drought tolerance, high yield, or even desirable cooking quality characteristics, they are likely to share similar SNPs contributing to that trait," he added.

Rice contains tens of thousands of genes, so finding a successful way to hunt through them all is a major breakthrough. IRRI maintains the International Rice Gene Bank containing over 109,000 types of rice, yet relatively few have been used in breeding programs.

IRRI Director General, Dr. Robert Zeigler says, "If breeders know more about the genetic makeup of rice, they can use it more effectively. As we face more erratic changes in climate, we will increasingly rely on using the untapped diversity of rice to develop new and improved rice varieties."

This study represents a significant international collaboration attracting researchers from Asia, North America, and Europe who are interested in both basic and applied science from evolution, crop domestication, to practical breeding.

Dr. Jan Leach, university distinguished professor at Colorado State University and co-author of the study, indicates that "the comprehensive SNP information is enabling exploration of rice diversity for understanding how genes function in rice and for improving important rice traits."

Dr. Detlef Weigel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology and collaborator on the project, agrees "This work sets the stage for the next phase of unlocking the treasure trove of genetic diversity available at IRRI and other centers for rice breeding." (ANI)

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