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Rooting and shooting for rice: getting to the root of the matter to increase production

ir74-pup1 left ir74 without pup1 right-square-smallThe article The protein kinase PSTOL1 from traditional rice confers tolerance of phosphorus deficiency, published in Nature on 22 August 2012, highlights a scientific breakthrough – the isolation of a gene that enhances root growth thereby enabling rice to take up significantly more phosphorus, a critical nutrient for plant growth. Some of the media coverage from IRRI and GCP press releases:

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Nature Press release, 18 Aug:

Genetics: Increasing rice yields (pp 535539)

A gene that can enhance rice yields in crops that normally rely on fertilizers containing phosphorus, an essential element for plant growth, is characterized in this week’s Nature. The gene makes crops tolerant to low concentrations of phosphorus, partly by enhancing root growth, which enables plants to acquire more phosphorus and other nutrients. Introduction of this gene into modern rice varieties is expected to enhance productivity under low-phosphorus conditions.

Rice is an important source of energy to many populations, such as in Asia, the world’s largest producer of rice. However, limited availability of phosphorus fertilizers contributes to low crop yields and high poverty in this region. Sigrid Heuer and co-authors suggest that a gene found in phosphorus-deficiency-tolerant rice in India, which is absent in other modern rice varieties, could address this problem. They show that grain yield can be increased in intolerant varieties by making them express the so-called phosphorus-starvation tolerance 1 (PSTOL1) gene.

The authors highlight the importance of exploring varieties of crops with valuable genes, such as PSTOL1, that could be used in breeding programs to improve plant yields.

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