The main goals are to study the genes of different wild rice species and identify genes that could be used to improve the crop.
Cereal crops – including rice – provide 60 percent of the calories and protein harvested worldwide, said UA plant scientist Rod Wing, who is director of the Arizona Genomics Institute in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, holder of the Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence professor in the School of Plant Sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute.
"Half of the world's population depends on rice, and that population is expected to double in 30 years," he said. "We need to figure out a way to come up with a rice variety with increased yield and capable of growing on less land, on poorer soil, with less water, and with less fertilizer."
Part of RICE 2020, an international coordinated effort in rice functional genomics, the NSF funds the undertaking of functionally characterizing the genomes of all 24 rice species, with the goal of transforming not only crop biology but evolutionary biology as well.
Using wild rice to improve rice crops
"What we're trying to do is identify and catalog all the genes found in the wild relatives of rice and analyze their functions," Wing said. "The idea is to identify genes that confer adaptations helping wild varieties cope with extreme environments and breed them into cultivated rice.The data could be used immediately to enhance food security, Wing pointed out, by providing a "toolkit of genes" that can be used to improve crop rice.
In addition, the project has crucial implications for evolutionary biology.
"We want to really understand the evolution of the rice genus Oryza in great detail," Wing said. "For example, which genes are the shared ones that make a rice plant a rice plant, and which are those that account for the differences we see between species?"
To do this, the researchers have to understand all the so-called "structural variations of the rice genome." Over the course of its 15-million year evolutionary history, genes have been gained, lost, crippled or inverted, rendering some of them non-functional while allowing others to take on new functions.
Together with collaborator Manyuan Long, a professor of genetics and evolution at the University of Chicago, Wing's team also will try to answer the question, where did new genes come from?
The highly collaborative project builds on previous accomplishments by several collaborators brought together under the International Oryza Map Alignment Project, or I-OMAP. Wing's group led an effort to determine the entire genetic sequence of the two rice species most widely used in agriculture, Asian Rice (O. sativa) and West African Rice (O. glaberrima).
Preserving wild rice populations
I-OMAP's goals include improving cereal crops as well as maintaining their diversity and ensuring their conservation in the wild.
"This line of research involves field studies," Wing said, "for example, going to the Philippines and identifying, say, a strand of the wild rice Oryza officinalis, so it can be set aside as a nature reserve."
Wing's group will focus on structural differences among the genomes of the 24 rice species and the role of transposable elements (pieces of DNA that, over generations, "jump" from one place in the genome to another, taking other genetic sequences with them in the process) and their impact on gene evolution.
"If we discover a gene that looks to be of interest, we can go to a population of a wild rice species and see how important it is. So we would ask, ‘Is this gene present across the entire population or is it just in the specific specimen whose DNA we happened to analyze?'"
Questions like these, which are of general importance to evolutionary biology as a whole, will be addressed by Carlos Machado, a long-time collaborator of Wing's who was an assistant professor in the UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology before joining the University of Maryland two years ago.
Another aspect of the project is being led by Michael Sanderson, a BIO5 member and professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the UA's College of Science. His research group is going to compare the genomes of domesticated rice and its wild relatives and reconstruct an evolutionary tree of the relationships of these species to each other. This will provide a framework for better understanding the evolution and function of genes in these genomes.
As a key step in this endeavor, Wing and his group are going sequence the genome of Oryza punctata, which is considered one of the the most primitive rice species.
"Oryza puncatata serves as a so-called out-group species," Wing said, "A reference species to compare all the others to, so we can make evolutionary inferences about the genes we identify – is this gene evolving rapidly or slowly?"
In addition, O. punctata contains a number of genes that could be important to improve cultivated rice, for example genes for stress tolerance.
The domestication bottleneck
"During the domestication process, people end up selecting a couple of plants and crossing them," Wing said. "This way, one of them became the founder of all the domesticated plants. That variety was then improved over thousands of years, but it contains only a very small variety of genes that could be used for crop improvement."Domesticated rice varieties have been selected for short stature, high yield and low shattering of the grains during harvesting.
West African Rice, for example, is more tolerant to drought and salty soils than Asian Rice.
"The system we are developing can be utilized by evolutionary biologists around the world to address grand challenge questions in evolutionary biology," Wing said. "This would be the first of such a system in a crop plant."
The project will provide training and mentoring to postdoctoral scientists, graduate and undergraduate students and high school students with an interest in genome evolution, plant breeding and careers in academic and corporate science.
As an outreach component, the project will include a biannual Plant Science Family Night program at Ventana Vista Elementary School in Tucson, targeting K-5 students and families, with the goal of getting children and their families in the greater Tucson area excited about plants and the role plant science plays in ensuring a safe, sustainable and secure food supply for our planet.
Other collaborators in the project include Doreen Ware at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Jianxin Ma at Purdue University; Detlef Weigel at the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen in Germany; and Olivier Panaud of the University of Perpignan in France.
Rod Wing, University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, (520) 626-9595; email@example.com
Daniel Stolte, University of Arizona Office of Communications, (520) 626-4402; firstname.lastname@example.org
New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge
Computer scientists use wave packet theory to develop realistic, detailed water wave simulations in real time. Their results will be presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference.
Think about the last time you were at a lake, river, or the ocean. Remember the ripples of the water, the waves crashing against the rocks, the wake following...
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
29.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.06.2017 | Life Sciences
29.06.2017 | Health and Medicine