Scientists have made major strides towards creating new breeds of rice that could be more sustainable, as well as more resilient to environmental stresses.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and BGI (formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute) have identified the exact genetic makeup of more than 3,000 different families of rice for the first time in what is being heralded as a major advancement in rice science.
Now, rice breeders can use these varieties as building blocks, using the sequence data to identify genes that represent favorable traits that can be transferred to other varieties, Marco van den Berg, chief technology officer at IRRI, told CNBC.
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By identifying the DNA of these rice varieties, researchers hope to improve the overall quality of rice cultivation while also reducing the crop's environmental footprint. Traits targeted for improvement include higher nutritional quality and greater tolerance of pests, diseases, floods and drought, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
"This dataset provides access to millions of genetic markers that can be used to design sustainable crops for the future - ones that are high-yielding while at the same time requiring less water, fertilizer, and pesticides," said Rod Wing, director of the Arizona Genomics Institute at the University of Arizona and IRRI scientist.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, and Global Rice Science Partnership, the international research project produced a massive data set of 120 terabytes that will be hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.
Accessing the data is free and AWS hopes it will help global researchers accelerate the breeding process.