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Genetic tweak could increase yield, boost drought tolerance in rice, potato: study

Adding a gene encoding for a protein called FTO to both rice and potato plants increased their yield by 50 per cent in field tests.

By: PTI | Mumbai |
August 2, 2021 3:46:58 pm
Mature RiceAnalysis also showed that the plants had increased their rate of photosynthesis. (Wikimedia Commons)

A genetic tweak that targets Ribonucleic acid (RNA) can increase the yield of rice and potato crops significantly and enhance drought tolerance, which could help address food security issue in developing nations, including in India, according to a research.

Scientists from the University of Chicago, Peking University and Guizhou University in a report said that adding a gene encoding for a protein called FTO to both rice and potato plants increased their yield by 50 per cent in field tests.

“The change really is dramatic. What’s more, it worked with almost every type of plant we tried it with so far, and it’s a very simple modification to make,” said University of Chicago Prof Chuan He, who together with Prof Guifang Jia at Peking University led the research. “This really provides the possibility of engineering plants to potentially improve the ecosystem as global warming proceeds.”

“This is a brand new type of approach, one that could be different from GMO and CRISPR gene editing; this technique allows us to “flip a switch” in the plants at an early point in development, which continues to affect the plant’s food production even after we remove the switch,” he said. “It seems that plants already have this layer of regulation, and all we did is tap into it. So the next step would be to discover how to do it using the plant’s existing genetics.”

The researchers – along with other leading experts – are hopeful about the potential of this breakthrough, especially in the face of climate change and other pressures on crop systems worldwide, added the report.

“This is a very exciting technology and could potentially help address problems of poverty and food insecurity at a global scale, and could also potentially be useful in responding to climate change,” said Michael Kremer, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on alleviating global poverty. He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

“Even beyond food, there are other consequences of climate change,” said Prof Chuan He. “Perhaps we could engineer grasses in threatened areas that can withstand drought. Perhaps we could teach a tree in the Midwest to grow longer roots, so that it’s less likely to be toppled during strong storms. There are so many potential applications.”

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