Genetically modified rice uses less fertilizer and produces more food

Researchers in China have developed a strain of genetically modified rice that grows while using less nitrogen. It actually produces 40-70% more food. Rice is the main staple crop in many parts of the world. Modern agriculture relies on fertilizers and much of that fertilizer relies on so-called natural gas, which is over 90% methane.

According to LNG2019, natural gas is responsible for up to 90% of the cost of fertilizers. Today, as Russia continues its criminal assault on Ukraine, the cost of natural gas is rising rapidly and driving the price of fertilizers to a similar rise. This, in turn, leads to the need for further research into ways to grow food with less nitrogen-based fertilizer. The scientists recently published their findings in the journal Science. Here is the presentation.

“Rapid population growth, increasing meat consumption and increasing use of crops for non-food and non-food purposes are increasing the pressure on global food production. At the same time, the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers to improve agricultural production poses a serious threat to both human health and the environment. To achieve the required yield increases and make agriculture more sustainable, intensified breeding and genetic engineering efforts are needed to obtain new crop varieties with higher photosynthetic capacity and improved nitrogen use efficiency. (NUDE). However, progress has been slow, largely due to limited knowledge of regulatory genes that can potentially coordinately optimize carbon assimilation and nitrogen utilization.

Ars-Technica reports that scientists began by studying proteins called transcription factors, which often control the expression of a set of genes often involved in various aspects of the same physiological function. In this case, the focus was on transcription factors already known to regulate photosynthesis.

To find the perfect target, they screened a set of 118 transcription factors previously identified to regulate photosynthesis in rice and maize to find those that were also upregulated in response to light and low levels of light. ‘nitrogen. When they found one, they generated transgenic rice lines that produced many. “Overexpressing a transcription factor like this instead of the individual genes it controls is like demanding to speak to the manager instead of being tossed around various customer service reps in different departments,” Ars said. That’s a pretty good analogy.

The genetically modified rice plants were placed in fields with different environmental conditions – temperate fields near Beijing, tropical fields in Hainan province and subtropical fields in Zhejiang province. Over three years, all rice plants showed increased photosynthetic capacity and improved nitrogen use efficiency.

They had more chlorophyll and more and larger chloroplasts than wild-type rice. They also had more efficient nitrogen uptake in their roots than wild-type rice, and they had more efficient transport of that nitrogen from their roots to their shoots than wild-type rice. This increased their grain yield, even when the plants were grown with less nitrogen fertilizer.

Other experiments were done with transgenic plants grown in hydroponics and in rice paddies, which also performed well. Overexpressing the same transcription factor in a more sophisticated rice strain — japonica instead of Oryza sativa used in most other experiments – had similar effects. The researchers also tested their new technology on wheat and Arabidopsis, the most commonly used model organism in plant biology. Both showed the same productivity increases using less nitrogen than the experimental rice plants.

The scientists suggest that genome editing could be used rather than the transgenic techniques they relied on in other crops to achieve a higher yield as well. As growing seasons shorten due to drought and excessive heat, and the availability of arable land is reduced, plants that produce more food with less nitrogen-based fertilizer may become essential for avert widespread starvation in many parts of the world.

Takeaway meals

Genetically modified foods conjure up frightening thoughts in the minds of many, although much of the food we eat has been modified in some way since Gregor Mendel began experimenting with peas. behind the presbytery almost 2 centuries ago.

Some refer to genetically modified plants as Frankenfood while others worry about the wisdom of allowing giant corporations to own the seeds civilization needs to survive, as corporations rarely have the best interests of people in mind. people. Fertilizer use has exploded in this century. Using fossil fuels to feed us at a time when fossil fuel pollution is threatening humans’ ability to survive on this planet is ultimately a recipe for disaster.

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