Seattle Rice which provides nearly half the daily calories for the world's population could become adapted to climate change and some catastrophic events by colonizing its seeds or plants with the spores of tiny naturally occurring fungi, just-published U.S. Geological Survey-led research shows.
In an effort to explore ways to increase the adaptability of rice to climatic scourges such as tsunamis and tidal surges that have already led to rice shortages, USGS researchers and their colleagues colonized two commercial varieties of rice with the spores of fungi that exist naturally within native coastal (salt-tolerant) and geothermal (heat-tolerant) plants.
The experiments were "quite successful," said author and Seattle-based USGS researcher Rusty Rodriguez, Ph.D. The rice plants thrived, achieving notable increased tolerance to cold, salt and drought, even though the rice varieties they tested were not naturally adapted to these stressors. Conferring heat tolerance to rice is the next step for the research team since rice production decreases by 10 percent for every temperature increase of 1-degree centigrade during the rice-growing season.
"This is an exciting breakthrough," Rodriguez said. "The ability of these fungi to colonize and confer stress tolerance, as well as increased seed yields and root systems in rice a genetically unrelated plant species from the native plants from which the fungi were isolated -- suggests that the fungi may be useful in adapting plants to drought, salt and temperature stressors predicted to worsen in future years due to climate change."
In fact, said Rodriguez, using these tiny fungi called endophytes is one of the only real strategies available for mitigating the effects of climate change on plants in natural and agricultural ecosystems. "We have named this emerging area of research "symbiogenics" for symbiosis-altered gene expression. The DNA of the rice plant itself, however, is n
|Contact: Rusty Rodriguez|
United States Geological Survey