Scientists from China, Sweden and the US have developed a high-yielding genetically modified rice that can reduce methane emissions, a major greenhouse gas blamed for global warming from paddies.
By inserting a barley gene into rice, Sun Chuanxin and his colleagues created SUSIBA2 Rice, which stores more starch in the section of the rice above ground, according to a paper published on the latest issue of Nature, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
This means the grains will have more starch while the root will exude less nutrients that will later be turned into methane by microbes in the soil, Sun, who works with Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences said.
“It solves two major problems mankind faces at one time: environmental degradation and the need for increased grain output,” Wang Feng, co-author of the paper from Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences said.
Wang said the rice can cut methane discharge by more than 90 per cent during summer and more than half during autumn, as “the rice displays a greater emission reduction effect in high temperatures.”
Meanwhile, small-scale trials have also suggested an increased output: a single plant of the new breed has 300 more grains with a starch content 10 percent higher, Wang added.
He said the team is working on applications for the breed in different areas, seasons and using different farming techniques.
“It’s still far away from mass application, but at least we see the light of hope,” he added.
Human-induced methane, though less abundant than carbon dioxide in the air, is responsible for 20 per cent of the global warming effect. Rice paddies are the largest single source of methane linked to human activity.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, China produces 209 million tonnes of rice in 2014 or 28 per cent of the world’s total of 734 million.