Genes Boost Rice Yields On Poorest Farms

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Thanks to a technique known as genetic mapping, Cornell University scientists have for the first time located genetic factors that allow significant increases in yields of rice grown by poor farmers trying to produce crops in hardscrabble conditions.

The researchers' breakthrough has been to use genetic maps to identify regions of chromosomes containing genes that control traits such as grains per plant, disease resistance and earliness. These genes are identified in a wild ancestor of rice and then introgressed, or "spliced," into domesticated, popular varieties of rice. In this case, the genes were introduced into a variety of upland rice, widely grown in unfavorable conditions such as on mountain slopes. As a result, the yield of the domesticated rice has been increased.

"The ability to use modern molecular techniques to improve yield and disease resistance of varieties grown by poor farmers under adverse conditions is as important as using this technology in the high-production areas of the world," says Susan R. McCouch, Cornell assistant professor of plant breeding.

McCouch presented the results of this plant-breeding achievement today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her talk, "Molecular Breeding and Genetic Resources," was part of a panel discussion on "Accelerating Crop Evolution for Greater Production and Better Biodiversity Conservation."

McCouch noted that she and her colleague, Steven D. Tanksley, Cornell Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding, have been able to unlock the genetic potential of domesticated rice varieties. Looking specifically at rice and tomatoes, the two researchers systematically mapped the genes of those plants, looking for specific loci, or genes, known as quantitative trait locus, or QTLs, which could be used to boost production.

This follows Cornell research reported two years ago on introgressing high-yield production genes from

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

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