NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – In an effort to develop new strains of plants that can provide calories to a world that is growing in population, particularly in regions that depend on rice as a staple, the University of Arizona will use a $9.9 million grant to fund collaborative studies of the genomes of wild relatives of cultivated rice, the university said last week.
The school will research the genomes of wild rice with the specific aims of finding genes that may be used to create new varieties that are better at withstanding drought and poor soils and which produce higher yields than the domestic varieties that are available today.
"Half of the world's population depends on rice, and that population is expected to double in 30 years," explained Rod Wing, director of the Arizona Genomics Institute and a U of A professor, in a statement. "We need to figure out a way to come up with a rice variety with increased yield and capable of growing on less land, on poorer soil, with less water, and with less fertilizer."
The NSF-funded research is part of the RICE 2020 effort, an international program to coordinate functional rice genomics, and it is funding characterization studies of all 24 rice species.
Along with scientists at the University of Arizona, the project involves collaborators involved in the Oryza Map Alignment Project, and partners at the University of Chicago, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Purdue University, the University of Maryland, the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, and the University of Perpignan.
"What we're trying to do is identify and catalog all the genes found in the wild relatives of rice and analyze their functions," Wing said, adding that the researchers hope to "identify genes that confer adaptations helping wild varieties cope with extreme environments and breed them into cultivated rice."
Wing's research group was involved in the sequencing of the genomes of Asian Rice and West African Rice as part of the International Oryza Map Alignment Project.