Washington, Nov. 25 (Reuters): Scientists said today they had genetically engineered rice to withstand drought, salt water and cold temperatures by borrowing a gene from the E. coli bacteria.
They hope the new stress-tolerant rice will help farmers in poor countries grow more food under the worst conditions.
The team, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Seoul National University in South Korea and elsewhere, added to the rice a gene for trehalose, a sugar that helps plants withstand stress.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists said they hope to develop crops to feed the world’s growing population.
“World population continues to increase at an explosive rate, our arable land is deteriorating, fresh water is becoming scarce and increasing environmental stresses pose ever more serious threats to global agricultural production and food security,” said Ray Wu, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell who led the study.
“Anything we can do to help crop plants cope with environmental stresses will also raise the quality and quantity of food for those who need it most.” They used Indica rice, which makes up 80 per cent of the world’s rice crop. But they believe other rice species as well as corn, wheat, millet, soybeans and sugar cane can also be genetically engineered using trehalose.
“Trehalose is a simple sugar that is produced naturally in a wide variety of organisms — from bacteria and yeasts to fungi, including mushrooms, and in many invertebrates, particularly insects,” said Ajay Garg, a Cornell biologist who helped lead the study.
“But there is normally not much trehalose in plants, with the exception of the so-called resurrection plants that can survive prolonged droughts in the desert. Drought-stressed resurrection plants look like they are dead and gone forever; then they pop back to life when moisture is available.”