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A more powerful and efficient engine for rice: the C3-C4 challenge

A major international scientific effort was launched last week to develop and use a radical new approach to boost rice production and avoid potential rice shortages, or even future famine.

Scientists have been working on different aspects of the approach since the early 1990s. But new knowledge generated by the sequencing of the rice genome is allowing researchers for the first time to discuss how they might work together to completely reconfigure what's known as the engine of rice production, the plant's photosynthetic system.

"If you think of the rice plant as a car, what we were talking about is really supercharging the engine," said IRRI crop ecologist John Sheehy, convener of a workshop on C4 Rice ?Supercharging the Rice Engine, held at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 17-21 July. "The photosynthetic process is the engine of growth for the rice plant, so, if we can improve that, then the whole plant benefits."

"If we continue with the car analogy, the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which resulted in high-yielding semidwarf rice varieties, focused on providing a new, more compact body for the rice plant," Dr. Sheehy added. "But we have never really got under the hood and tried to improve the engine, or the photosynthetic efficiency, of the rice plant. It's going to be an enormously complex and difficult challenge, but we think that with all the new knowledge we have about the rice plant it can be done."

Many of the world's leading experts on photosynthesis attended the five-day workshop. They were warned that unless global rice production continues to increase steadily--despite fewer resources such as land, labor, and capital--millions of people could fall backward into poverty. More than 3 billion people depend on rice as their main food source each day, including most of the world's poor.

"Frankly, we have almost exhausted the traditional methods of increasing rice pr
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Source:International Rice Research Institute


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