China’s new rice emits virtually no methane when cultivated

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A multi-university effort has led to development of a genetically modified variant of rice that emits virtually no methane – a potent greenhouse gas. Researchers have suggested that this could pave way for reduced emissions and hence help fight the global warming.

A staple diet of millions around the world, rice is one of the most consumed food globally and also one of the largest man-made contributors to methane emissions – up to a whopping 17 per cent of global methane emissions – that in its own right is responsible for global warming.

Researchers added a single gene to rice and the resultant variant when cultivated emits virtually no methane from its paddies during growth. Further, researchers have also revealed that this rice variant packs all the desired properties of rice including starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production.

Researchers acknowledge that their research might just target a small percentage of overall greenhouse gases and is nothing compared to carbon dioxide emissions; however, methane is about 20 times more effective at trapping heat and that’s one of the reasons why the SUSIBA2 rice, as the new strain is dubbed, could hold the key to reduced methane emissions and a step towards fighting global warming.

Further, the SUSIBA2 rice is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution.

Researchers created SUSIBA2 rice by introducing a single gene from barley into common rice, resulting in a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil.

The results of the study, which were published in Nature, were achieved after a work spanning over 10 years by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China’s Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

“The need to increase starch content and lower methane emissions from rice production is widely recognized, but the ability to do both simultaneously has eluded researchers,” Jansson said. “As the world’s population grows, so will rice production. And as the Earth warms, so will rice paddies, resulting in even more methane emissions. It’s an issue that must be addressed.”