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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Salt-Resistant Rice

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on an ancient strain of rice that could make much of China's unusable land arable.


CHU: The Chinese have grown rice for more than 4,000 years. In several Asian languages the words for rice and food are identical. We don’t know what the original rice plants looked like, or what their genetic makeup was, but today there are thousands of different strains.

Rice is China’s major staple crop but, over the years, agricultural development and the use of pesticides and fertilizers have made much of China’s land too salty to farm. About 20 million acres of Chinese soil have salt levels that make the soil poisonous for crops. With rising population and industrial development, these areas are expanding. But scientists may have come up with a solution: salt-resistant rice plants.

At the State Key Lab of Plant Molecules in Shanghai, scientists have successfully cloned a gene from an ancient variety of salt-resistant rice native to the Shanghai region. When rice grows in salty soil, natrium hydronium, a variety of salt, accumulates in the stalks and leaves and kills the plant. But, the cloned gene boosts circulation of natrium down into the plant’s roots, allowing more nutrients to flow up. If this gene can be successfully cultivated in plants, all that highly salinized land could be put to use.

The results of the cloning research will be published in the Nature Genetics magazine in October, but it will be a while before we hear how the taste tests turn out. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.



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