Bioengineered rice better suited for climate change, study says

Avatar By Tyler MacDonald | 12 months ago

A new study suggests that rice plants that are engineered with fewer stomata—the pores needed for gas exchange—are more resilient to future climate change. In particular, the University of Sheffield team engineered the rice to have a reduced stomatal density, which helped crops conserve water and increased survival rates during drought and high temperatures.

Most of the world relies on rice as a source of food. However, cultivating rice is a water intensive process that takes up approximately 2,500 litres of water for every kilogram of rice produced.

“Future predicted decreases in water availability, combined with increased frequency of extreme drought and high temperature events, are likely to present particular challenges for farmers—resulting in substantial crop loss,” said Robert Caine, first author of the study from the University of Sheffield.

“Our study has shown that rice plants with fewer stomata are drought tolerant and more conservative in their water use,” he added. “This means they should perform better in the future under climate change conditions.

“We found that the engineered rice crops gave equivalent or even improved yields, which means it could have a massive impact on our future food security which is threatened by climate change,” he continued.

“Stomata help plants to regulate their water use, so this study could have a significant impact on other crops which are at risk under climate change,” said Julie Gray, senior author of the study.

“At the University of Sheffield we believe in a sustainable future and work towards solutions to the most pressing global challenges,” she added.

The findings were published in New Phytologist.