Efforts to 'turbocharge' rice enter new phase

Thursday 3 December 2015
Robert Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer

A research and development project to supercharge rice production has received funding for a third phase. This marks another step on the road to significantly increased crop yields that will help meet the food needs of billions of people across the developing world, as rice is a staple for nearly half of the world’s population.

The C4 Rice project, a global alliance led by scientists at Oxford University, aims to ‘supercharge’ photosynthesis in rice by introducing a more efficient photosynthesis pathway which is found in plants like sugarcane and sorghum.

Rice uses a less efficient photosynthesis pathway known as C3, and scientists believe they can improve rice production by 50 per cent if they can modify rice to use the C4 pathway that makes sugarcane and sorghum grow so quickly.

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have established a strong node of the C4 Rice project, which is building on the knowledge gained during the last 6 years of research using latest advances in synthetic biology to contribute on the understanding of C4 photosynthesis.

“The C4 rice project is a long-term global effort that requires a continued investment to tackle the biggest challenge of our future: feeding the world population,” said ANU Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and one of the co-leaders of the C4 rice Australian Node.

“It is very exciting to receive this award from the University of Oxford and that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has agreed to continue investing in this ambitious project that aims to ensure food security with a quantum leap in rice yields,” said ANU Professor Robert Furbank, also from the ARC Centre.

Introduction of C4 traits into rice is predicted to improve production by up to 50%, while increasing nitrogen use efficiency and tolerance to high temperatures, and doubling water use efficiency.

Professor Jane Langdale, from the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University, and Principal Investigator on Phase III of the C4 Rice Project, said: “Rice yields need to increase by 50% over the next 35 years.  Given that traditional breeding programs have hit a yield barrier, the world is facing an unprecedented level of food shortages.’

The C4 Rice Project was initiated in 2008 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, following discussions led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Researchers at the Australian National University have been part of the project since its inception. 

Phase III of the project is a collaboration between 12 institutions in eight countries funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Find out more at http://C4Rice.com

 

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