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A farmer harvests rice in Nepal.

A farmer harvests rice in Nepal.


Asian Institutions Release Genomes of 3000 Rice Lines

As a step toward boosting rice production to meet a projected 25% increase in demand by 2030, researchers from three Asian institutions today announced the release of the genetic sequences of 3000 rice lines.

"The 3000 genomes will help us explore new genes needed to create new adaptive varieties; this is becoming increasingly important to sustain rice productivity and to ensure food security under the impact of climate change," says Hei Leung, a plant geneticist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines, and one of the scientists involved in the project.

The backers hope that this genetic information will lead to identifying genes for draught, disease, and pest resistance as well as tolerance for poor soils. The first rice genomes were sequenced in the mid-2000s, but this advancement in understanding rice genetics had limited impact in improving rice strains.

"A single genome does not reveal the large store of genetic diversity in rice," says Leung, who notes that many important genes are not present in the previously sequenced rice lines. "Many useful genes are carried in traditional [rice] landraces; without sequence information it is difficult to use such treasure," he says.

The sequencing of 3000 rice lines acquired from 89 countries has confirmed that there are five broad varietal groups. More importantly, the effort identified approximately 18.9 million single nucleotide polymorphisms, or minor genetic differences, that might represent important traits. Leung says the next step is to connect the genetic sequence information to specific phenotypical traits.  

The sequencing effort was a collaboration among IRRI; BGI in Shenzhen, China; and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology funded the project.

The report on the sequences and a commentary by officials from the three institutions appear online today in GigaScience. The entire data set is available at the journal's affiliated database, GigaDB. Seeds of all of the rice lines are held by the International Rice Genebank Collection housed at IRRI.