Sun, Oct 11, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Taiwanese team discovers rice’s flood-tolerant gene

FLOODED FIELDSThe team has identified the gene that allows rice to grow when submerged in water, an important discovery in the face of climate change

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

A Taiwanese scientist at Academia Sinica has announced that her research team has identified the gene — CIPK15 (CBL-­interacting protein kinase) — that explains how rice can germinate and grow under water.

“The CIPK15 gene has been found as the key that guarantees rice’s flood-tolerant qualities,” said Yu Shu-may (余淑美), a researcher at Academia Sinica’s ­Institute of Molecular Biology.

The gene is the reason why 80 percent of the world’s rice is traditionally planted in submerged fields, saving the need to kill weeds and use pesticides, Yu said.

She expressed the hope that the discovery behind rice’s growth can help human beings cultivate more crops that are resistant to floods, drought, salt and hot or cold temperatures at a time when extreme weather conditions ­resulting from global climate change have become common and often lead to diminished crop yields.

Yu’s study was selected as the cover story for the current issue of the journal Science Signaling.

Lee Kuo-wei (李國維), the first author of the paper and the prime contributor to the rice genomics study, said the team’s research found that rice is the only crop that can survive in flooded fields because of the CIPK15 gene.

Most plants die when submerged in water because the diffusion of oxygen is limited, restricting aerobic metabolism and energy production.

However, rice seeds, when plunged under water, signal to the CIPK15 gene that an oxygen shortage exists, triggering SnRKIA, a multiple functional protein, to produce amylolytic enzymes that are then transformed into sugar.

This gives the plants the energy they need to grow under water, Lee said.

After the rice seedlings emerge from the water, they can take in more oxygen, allowing their roots to generate carbohydrates and energy under water, he said.

Other crops, such as barley, wheat and corn, or even weeds, cannot grow in water using this mechanism because they lack the specific gene, he said.

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