Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of extreme weather
conditions such as droughts and floods. This is a big problem for farmers as
rice is the only crop with resilience to flooding. A new study conducted by
a team of scientists from Emory University; University of California, Davis;
University of California, Riverside; Argentina's National University of La
Plata, and the Netherland's Ultrecht University has identified the genetic
clues to the resilience of rice plants to flooding that may help scientists
improve the prospects for other crops.
Rice was domesticated in the tropics, where it has adapted to monsoon rains
and waterlogging. The research examined how other crops compare to rice when
submerged in water. The plants included species with a range of flooding
tolerance, from barrel clover (similar to alfalfa), to domesticated tomato
plants, to a wild-growing tomato that is adapted for a desert environment.
Results showed that while evolution separated rice ancestors from other
species as far back as 180 million years ago, they all share at least 68
gene families that are activated during flooding.
The UC Riverside team conducted flooding experiments and analysis of rice
plant genomes, while the UC Davis group did the same with the tomato
species, and the barrel clover work was done at Emory. The results suggest
that the timing and smoothness of the genetic response may account for the
variations in the outcomes for the plants during the experiments.