Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Thai Hill Farmers Help Preserve Genetic Diversity of Rice

Traditional rice cultivation methods practiced in the isolated hillside farms of Thailand are helping preserve the genetic diversity of rice, one of the world's most important food crops, according to a new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

Rice is one of the most important crops worldwide, as it feeds over half of the world's population. Domesticated rice is an important supply of the world's rice. However, these strains are genetically static and cannot adapt to changing growing conditions. Traditional varieties, or landraces, of rice are genetically evolving and provide a pool of traits that can be tapped to improve crops worldwide.

Research from Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and her colleagues at Chiang Mai University in Thailand shows how natural genetic drift and agricultural practices of the traditional farmers combine to influence the genetic diversity of a given landrace of rice.

Schaal is also involved in science policy, serving as vice president of the National Academy of Sciences and recently appointed to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Schaal and her colleagues studied a landrace of rice grown by the Karen people in Thailand. They compared the genetic variation among the same variety of rice grown in different fields and villages. The genetics of the rice population fits the isolation by distance model, much like a native plant species. The further apart fields are, the more genetically distinct they are.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is funded by the McKnight Foundation and the Thailand Research Fund.

In the lowlands of Thailand, farmers grow modern high-yield rice. In the hills, the Karen people practice traditional agriculture, growing ancestral varieties of rice with traditional practices. Expert farmers play a role in maintaining their crop's genetic diversity by exchanging and choosing seeds to plant the following year.

"It's interesting to see how the expert farmers interact with the plants. For example, there was a purple mutation that occurred in one of the expert farmer's fields. He was very curious about it. He took the seeds and grew it off in a corner because he wanted to see what it looked like and tasted like. That's probably how humans domesticated plants, smart people were making smart choices in what to plant and grow," Schaal said.

Many crops grown today have been genetically optimized to consistently give a large yield. Seeds are purchased from a supplier and the plants are all genetically similar.

"Most modern varieties of crops, like corn in the Midwest or high-yield rice in the lowlands of Thailand, are artificial constructs developed by plant breeders. They are extraordinarily important in feeding the world. But they are static and not evolving in farmer's fields," Schaal said.

The rice that the Karen people grow is genetically dynamic, due to natural drift and the farmer's artificial selection. Each year, the farmers choose the seeds that grow best in their fields, which may differ in soil type, elevation, and temperature from other fields, to plant next season. Their crop is constantly evolving in response to local conditions.

"My colleagues believe that those local varieties bred within a village are better than any one single variety could be. Under these circumstances, the farmers have it right," Schaal said.

Although most agriculture in the United States focuses on growing high-yield crops to produce food for people living in cities, landraces of corn and other crops exist in seed banks.

"There is a movement among Native Americans in Arizona to grow ancestral varieties of crops. These varieties are important because they are adapted to hot and dry conditions, something that will become more prevalent as our climate changes," Schaal said.

Time will tell if those farmers "get it right" too.

Gerry Everding | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>