A few months ago, Worldchanging wrote about the International Rice Research Institute, or IRRI, a Philippines-based organization that is developing rice varieties suited for extreme weather and a changing climate.
Rice is a staple for more than three billion people around the world. This is possible, in part, because of high-yield strains developed during the Green Revolution. Unfortunately, these strains tend to be finicky. They're bountiful under ideal growing conditions, but far less productive when things aren't just right.
One of the biggest problems is flooding: though rice is grown in standing water, it drowns if fully submerged for more than a couple days. Approximately a quarter of the world's rice is grown in rain-fed, low-lying areas prone to sudden rises in water levels. In these regions, the line between bumper crop and catastrophe is thin, and floods already ruin from a tenth to the entirety of the average farmer's annual harvest. Climate change, obviously, will only exacerbate the destruction.
In a recent Nature article, IRRI researchers described their solution to this problem. They identified a gene linked to submergence survival in FR13A, a type of rice that emerged in the east Indian region of Orissa but is no longer commercially planted. Plants with the gene can survive submersion for up to two weeks.
So far, researchers have introduced the gene into six rice varieties, of which one is in field trials and reputedly doing well. IRRI is now developing submergence-resistant strains for commercial production in India, Bangladesh and Laos. If successful, these could be a major step in IRRI's ongoing effort to improve food security through information-sharing and the sensible use of technology, and mark the arrival of a much-needed generation of crops designed to handle misfortune, climate change and human insult.
Breeding crops is such a weird concept, but it's amazing what scientists can do to better the crops available, especially in countries where food is scarce.
Brandon - your "Green Revolution" link is missing an end quotation mark, obscuring a paragraph of text.
Thanks for the catch, Eric!