Cornell Scientists Find Way To Boost Rice Crop Yield -- They'll Walk On The Wild Side

ITHACA, N.Y. -- To help stave off global hunger, Cornell University plant breeders -- on a treasure hunt armed with genome maps -- have discovered genes in wild rice species that may help boost production of some of the world's major agricultural crops.

"We've gone back and found wild species that contain genes that may help us boost production," said Steven D. Tanksley, Cornell's Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding and Biometry. "The world is only so big, the population is growing and we need to continue feeding that population." Tanksley and Susan R. McCouch, Cornell assistant professor of plant breeding, along with other Cornell researchers are announcing their research in the journal Nature, (Nov. 21, 1996) in an article, "Genes from the wild boost rice yields." The research was done by Tanksley and McCouch, as well as Cornell post-doctoral fellows Jinhua Xiao, Silvana Grandillo and Sang Nag Ahn. Jiming Li and Longping Yuan, of the China National Hybrid Rice Engineering Technology and Research Center in Hunan, People's Republic of China, also contributed to the research. The Cornell researchers used grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Rockefeller Foundation.

"Land mass is actually shrinking in Asia and as a society we've increased rice yields per acre about as much as we could. We can't increase the land, so we have to do something," said McCouch. "Fertilization is no longer an effective way to boost yield -- it's plateaued. So, instead of boosting land mass -- which we can't do -- we're manipulating the plant's genetics."

In the case of rice, there has not been a significant yield increase in two decades. Yet the world's agriculturists are using only 25 percent of the genetic diversity available. In other words, the same types of rice have been cultivated over and over again, effectively reducing rice's natural diversity. With so much homogeneity, the researchers explain, rice has reached a genetic bottleneck

Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander, Jr.
Cornell University News Service

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