How Native Rice Varieties Can Help Fight Climate Change

A previously overlooked local rice variety in Vietnam could be used to help breed more climate-resilient crops, find scientists.

AsianScientist (Jun. 24, 2021) – As climate change threatens crucial food supplies like rice, newfound local varieties in Vietnam could be used to breed improved crops that are more resilient to changing weather conditions. The study was published in Rice.

Whether you prefer it steamed or fried, as part of sushi or a porridge, rice remains one of the key staples of Asian cuisine. In Vietnam, especially, the crop provides daily sustenance to over 96 million people—and yet, along the Mekong river delta, increasing salinity and drought have wreaked havoc on local rice production.

With climate change at our doorstep, researchers are racing to identify rice varieties that can survive in under increasingly unpredictable conditions. Though Vietnam has a wealth of native and traditional rice diversity, these are largely untapped as farmers switch to more productive, modern varieties. These locally adapted rice varieties are a potential source of desirable genes that may be leveraged in future rice breeding programmes.

In an attempt to limit the loss of these resources, thousands of rice seeds have since been deposited in the Vietnamese National Genebank for safekeeping. To fully understand the diversity of these seeds, a team led by Vietnam’s Agriculture Genetics Institute and UK’s Earlham Institute analyzed 672 local rice genomes—of which 616 were sequenced for the first time.

Benchmarking their new data to the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, the team discovered a previously overlooked subpopulation of large rice known as ‘I5 Indica.’ According to the authors, I5 Indica can be used to design a new generation of ‘Green Super Rice’ that requires less resources despite having enhanced nutritional content. The super rice is also intended to grow in even less arable lands—making it a far more resilient variety.

“Vietnam has a rich history in rice breeding, especially at the local level. The adaptation to multiple environmental conditions and regional preferences has created a wide range of varieties,” said first author Dr. Janet Higgins from the Earlham Institute. “Studies like this suggest that this diversity constitutes a largely untapped and highly valuable genetic resource for local and international breeding programmes.”

“It would be fantastic if the IRRI were in a position to incorporate some of the I5 Indica varieties from Vietnam we describe in our study in their future breeding programmes. We believe this new data will massively help optimise sustainable rice production for global demand while protecting our planet,” she concluded.

The article can be found at: Higgins et al. (2021) Resequencing of 672 native rice accessions to explore genetic diversity and trait associations in Vietnam.


Source: Earlham Institute; Photo: Georgina Smith/CIAT.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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