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Plant biologist seeks molecular differences between rice and its mimic

Red rice sounds like a New Orleans dish or a San Francisco treat. But it's a weed, the biggest nuisance to American rice growers, who are the fourth largest exporters of rice in the world. And rice farmers hate the pest, which, if harvested along with domesticated rice, reduces marketability and contaminates seed stocks.

Complicating matters is the fact that red rice and cultivated rice are exactly the same species, so an herbicide cannot be developed that seeks out only red rice. It would kill cultivated rice, too.

But now a plant evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $1.12 million for two years to perform genetic studies on red rice to understand molecular differences between the two that someday could provide the basis for a plan to eradicate the weed. The particular NSF program funding the research is the Plant Genome Comparative Sequencing Program.

Kenneth M. Olsen, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, believes that gene flow is one factor that has been at work.

"We are looking for candidate genes that underlie particular traits that differ between the two," said Olsen. "Knowing more about the traits could help in potentially controlling the weed. We have a key advantage in this research in that we know the complete cultivated rice genome, so it's fairly easy to target genes of interest."

Olsen and his colleagues, Ana Caicedo, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, and Yulin Jia, Ph.D., of the United States Department of Agriculture National Rice Research Center, will test at least two hypotheses. One is that red rice is rice that's gone feral, or gone bad.

"In this scenario, you have a sort of selection favoring the weedy version of the crop that out-competes the crop itself," he s
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
19-Dec-2006


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