A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in China, working with a colleague from Germany, has boosted the yield of rice by 40% by giving test plants a second copy of a certain gene. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their work in improving rice yields to meet growing food demands in light of a continuing rise in global population. Steven Kelly with the University of Oxford, has published a Perspectives piece in the same journal issue outlining the work done by the team in China.
As the world’s population continues to grow, scientists around the world are looking for ways to get more food out of the land available for use in growing crops. In this new effort, the researchers looked at ways to improve rice yields by genetically altering DNA to coax individual plants to produce more grains of rice.
The plants that humans have decided to cultivate came to be farmed by humans due to a variety of events that transpired many years ago. Study of such plants has shown that they are not all equally good at photosynthesis, however. Corn, is very efficient, for example, while rice is much less so. Thus, scientists have been seeking to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in rice, and in some cases, made improvements.
In this new effort, the researchers took a different approach. Their work began, as Kelly notes, by asking how rice responds to challenges such as depleted nutrition. They found that expression of OxDREBIC, a transcription factor, was upregulated when the plants were growing in nitrogen-poor soil. They then found that they could push the plants to overexpress OxDREBIC by adding a second copy of a gene from another plant to its DNA. They found plants with the second copy produced from 12% to 40% more rice compared to a control group. They also found that doing the same with wheat plants resulted in yield increases up to 10%. The researchers found that their altered rice plants were able to increase their yields by pulling nitrogen more efficiency from the soil and also by speeding up flowering.
The researchers note that their technique could be done equally well using gene editing techniques that do not involve using a gene from another plant, which could reduce resistance to its use in commercial products.
Using CRISPR to turn off genes in corn and rice to improve crop yields
Shaobo Wei et al, a transcriptional regulator that boosts grain yields and shortens the growth duration of rice, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abi8455
Steven Kelly, The quest for more food, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.add3882
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