Brussels, 30 Sep 2002
China's decision to share its latest research on rice gene sequencing has been hailed a significant step towards greater food security and improved livelihoods for poor farmers around the world.
Rice distribution in the Philippines with plates made from banana skins Photo: International Rice Research Institute
Talks at this year's International Rice Congress in Beijing have led to an announcement by the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that it would provide unfettered access to the sequencing information it has formulated on thousands of rice genes. The information will be made available in a format described as the "rice gene expression microarray". The information contained in the genes controls basic characteristics in the rice including aroma and resistance to pests and disease. In April this year, the BGI published its rice genome map in the journal Science. While the functions of many of the genes are still unknown, scientists predict that the information they provide will be important in the development of new rice varieties.
Yielding tangible results
Researchers at the Rice Congress described the Chinese offer as one of the most significant developments in the history of modern rice research. "The sequencing of the rice genome will be the first sequencing project to yield tangible results for humankind," said Ronald Cantrell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute in an article by Australia's ABC News online. Dr Yang Huanming, director of the BGI, said his organisation was keen to help scientists in the developing world to catch up with their better-resourced colleagues in the developed world. He said he hoped the release of this data will help "speed up important research in rice biology and breeding", which will help protect millions of poor rice farmers from pests, disease and drought.