Genomes Of 3,000 Rice Strains Published On World Hunger Day
May 28, 2014

Genomes Of 3,000 Rice Strains Published On World Hunger Day

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

When we Americans think of hunger, chances are that we picture a famished child from one third world nation or another. And to be honest, most Americans perhaps never really think of hunger in the first place. So it might be surprising to learn that some 50 million Americans suffer from lack of food and proper nourishment and suffer from hunger on a daily basis. To put that in perspective, that is one person for every six that live in this country.

Today is a day when we, as a developed nation, should put our focus on the scourge of hunger worldwide. That is because today, May 28, is World Hunger Day, an event created and sponsored by the The Hunger Project UK, which is meant to highlight sustainable solutions to end extreme hunger and poverty.

Taking part in World Hunger Day, GigaScience, an open-access, open-data journal, published an article that provides the genomic sequencing of 3,000 different strains of rice. With this publication, the amount of publicly available data on rice genome sequencing has effectively been quadrupled and represents the completion of the 3,000 Rice Genomes Project. The 3,000 Rice Genomes Project is a collaboration undertaken by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and BGI. Funding for the project was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

Worldwide, it is estimated that over 1/8th of the globe's population suffers from extreme hunger and poverty. That figure is only meant to increase as the world's population continues to grow. For this reason, the 3,000 Rice Genomes Project and others like it believe it is supremely important that we find new and novel means to improve crop yield, reduce the overall impact of agricultural processes on the environment and develop food crops that provide necessary nutrition despite being grown in adverse environments.

The first high-quality rice genome sequence was completed almost a decade ago. However, since 2005, there has been little to no advancement with regard to breeding practices. This, experts state, is highly important for the production of improved and better adapted rice strains.

According to Dr. Zhikang Li, Project Director with CAAS, the 3,000 Rice Genomes Project is part of an ongoing effort to provide resources specifically for poverty-stricken farmers in Africa and Asia. The project has a stated goal of reaching, at minimum, 20 million rice farmers in 16 target countries on the two continents.

Rice is the staple food for most Asian people, and has increasing consumption in Africa,” Dr. Li explained in a statement. “With decreasing resources (water and land), food security is – and will be – the most challenging issue in these countries, both currently and in the future.”

“As a scientist in rice genetics, breeding and genomics, it would be a dream to help solve this problem,” he added.

The director general of the IRRI, Dr. Robert Zeigler, echoed the sentiments of Dr. Li, stating, “Access to 3,000 genomes of rice sequence data will tremendously accelerate the ability of breeding programs to overcome key hurdles mankind faces in the near future.”

Zeigler believes the work done by the collaborating groups “will add an immense amount of knowledge to rice genetics, and enable detailed analysis by the global research community to ultimately benefit the poorest farmers who grow rice under the most difficult conditions.”

Work on this front going forward will be built on the elementary breeding practices currently in use which have practically remained unchanged since the dawn of agriculture. Basically, the current practice takes from the physical traits of the strain and uses that to guide it for possible crossbreeding. It is in that crossbreeding, when effective, that an offspring strain is created that is likely a combination and improvement of the desired traits. The primary issue up until today was that the underlying genetic makeup of the strain was little understood or unknown to the agricultural community. Therefore, much time and effort was seemingly wasted in what amounted to a lengthy period of trial and error.

With today's release of the genetic makeup of 3,000 strains of rice, researchers will be able to find and identify certain genetic markers as they relate to specific desired traits. As a result, trial and error will be supplanted by intelligent decision making for strain selection. Time and effort will decrease leading to more rapid development of rice strains that are better suited to the environments in the countries and continents that are the focus of the 3,000 Rice Genome Project.

So, it seems appropriate that on World Hunger Day 2014, this collaborative effort would offer to the hungry and poor a wealth of now freely available genetic information that both breeders and scientists can access the world over. In addition to the purely humanitarian aspect of today's news, it is certain that we will find this release an invaluable and extensive resource that will improve our overall understanding of plant biology.