Rice designers go back to their roots

August 4, 1995

A new breed of "designer" rice, so productive that it could make a significant dent in Third-World food problems, is being developed by scientists in the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

Scientists have designed an ideal rice plant - and are breeding it from stocks of old rice breeds, some of which date back 30 years, and are no longer used by farmers.

The plant could be 25 per cent more productive, and resistant to insecticides, improved in grain quality and have a shorter stem, less likely to break in bad weather.

Gurdev Khush, principal plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, decided to make use of the 80,000 old rice varieties stored at the institute.

He said: "We went back to the initial stage where we had been 25 to 30 years ago when we started producing many varieties that are now planted on 60 to 70 per cent of rice plantations."

The changes have been achieved by conventional breeding, but scientists at De Montfort University in Leicester hope to make the plant's grains heavier using genetic engineering.

Dr Khush, who became a fellow of the Royal Society this year, said: "We have the prototype but we still have to make considerable improvements, so it is not a final product."

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