Researchers sponsored by the Department of Energy found that introducing a single gene from barley into common rice produced a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil. The new rice is called “SUSIBA2” rice.
About half the world’s population depends on rice as a staple food. However, the rice paddies used to grow rice are responsible for about 17 percent of global methane emissions, about 100 million tons per year. Methane is a greenhouse gas stronger than carbon dioxide but its concentration in the atmosphere is much lower – about 0.0002% versus 0.04% for CO2.
The GMO modified rice produces more grains and more starch for a richer food supply. There will be no methane emissions from the rice paddies during the growth period.
According to a press release, the results represent the culmination of more than a decade of work in three countries.
The plant process is described as follows:
During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is absorbed and converts to sugars to feed or be stored in various parts of the plant. Researchers have long sought to better understand and control this process to coax out desired characteristics of the plant. Funneling more carbon to the seeds in rice results in a plumper, starchier grain. Similarly, carbon and resulting sugars channeled to stems and leaves increases their mass and creates more plant biomass, a bioenergy feedstock.
In early work in Sweden, researchers investigated how distribution of sugars in plants could be controlled by a special protein called a transcription factor, which binds to certain genes and turns them on or off.
By controlling where the transcription factor is produced, we can then dictate where in a plant the carbon – and resulting sugars – accumulate.
To narrow down the mass of gene contenders, the team started with grains of barley that were high in starch, then identified genes within that were highly active. The activity of each gene then was analyzed in an attempt to find the specific transcription factor responsible for regulating the conversion of sugar to starch in the above-ground portions of the plant, primarily the grains.
It will be interesting to see how GMO-phobes and climate alarmists react to this news.