Genetic Manipulation Produces Improved Rice Strain


Opponents of genetic engineering fail to appreciate the advantages associated with modification of plant genomes to produce strains with benefits to farmers, especially those in under-developed nations. Collaborators in a project involving Iowa State University, the University of California - Davis and INRA in France have developed a strain of rice that can reproduce without fertilization. This type of reproduction is referred to as "synthetic apomixis". This is the first commercial crop which expresses this characteristic, although as many as 500 wild plants are capable of producing seeds without fertilization.

The modification was achieved by identifying genes that regulate reproduction with specific reference to fertilization. Progeny of modified plants capable of apomixis are clones but are still capable of reproducing.

The rice plant which has been developed relieves farmers from having to purchase hybrid seed each planting season. The system will however require further development since the efficiency of asexual reproduction is currently only at 30 percent. Continuing work applying genome editing will eventually yield a rice plant which incorporates acceptable commercial attributes at minimal cost.

Opponents of GE should consider the benefits such as yield, resistance to drought, pests and enhanced nutrient content. It is clear that GM strains of cotton, corn, and soybeans can be produced with lower levels of pesticide and herbicide application and specific strains of bananas and rice with enhanced carotene levels have the potential to reduce blindness in the nations where GMO cultivars would have the most impact.

Zimbabwe has recently lifted a ban imposed on importation of GM seeds and commodities. It is expected that additional nations in sub-Saharan Africa will follow based on need and education.