Rice research gets a leg up on understanding plant reactions to environment

November 2, 2009
This photo shows rice growing in Texas. Credit: (Texas AgriLife Research photo).

One might say plants don't have a leg to stand on, but that may actually give them a leg up on the animal kingdom when it comes to environmental adaptability.

"Plants are rooted in the ground. They can't move away when it gets too hot, too dry or too wet," said Dr. Lee Tarpley, Texas AgriLife Research plant physiologist in Beaumont. "If we can understand how plants respond to the environment, that would give us some clues on how to breed plants more capable of adapting to extremes."

Take rice. More than 558 million metric tons are produced annually in some 100 nations. It's a staple on which human survival depends in many developing countries, so assuring a harvest is vital.

"As a rice plant grows, its structure changes based on its age, what kind of weather it has faced, the use of chemicals if any, and what it inherited as a plant variety," Tarpley explained.

Yet with so many variables possible across numerous varieties worldwide, researchers have not had a way to analyze enough samples to target particular plant responses for improvement in breeding programs.

In his research, Tarpley has identified biomarkers in rice - 17 markers thus far that can follow changes in metabolism rapidly across a large number of plant samples. The technique is called screening. Tarpley has developed procedures for six of these markers so that researchers can begin using them to help diagnose the plant's needs.

"Perhaps we will be able to use these procedures in the lab to screen how tillering occurs and how metabolism changes in that process," Tarpley said. "Then we might understand how to change this to help a plant yield more rice."

A tiller is the stem of the plant where flowers appear before developing individual grains of rice. A may have about 15 tillers, each with about 200 flowers, according to University of California-Davis statistics.

Tarpley noted that metabolite screening is also used in animals - including humans - to diagnose certain diseases. A urinalysis, for example, may measure 20 metabolites to look for changes from a normal range.

This study in rice is new, he said, because in the past scientists have only considered a few aspects of rice . So while one aspect might be understood, its interactions with other aspects were not included in breeding decisions.

Likewise, Tarpley added, other research has attempted to examine all of a plant's metabolites. But screening for such a large number was also difficult. That's why Tarpley decided to zero in on 17 major metabolites in .

He plans to continue working out the processes for the remaining biomarkers so that the information can be used in crop breeding as well as for managing crop environments in the field.

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Communications

Explore further: To maximize biofuel potential, researchers look for sorghum's 'sweet spot'

Related Stories

Genomics Research Focuses on Rice Variety Improvement

July 1, 2008

Crop varieties can be improved through the study of genomics without creating genetically transformed varieties. That is the mission of a multistate research project led by the University of Arkansas System’s Division of ...

Gene's past could improve the future of rice

January 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In an effort to improve rice varieties, a Purdue University researcher was part of a team that traced the evolutionary history of domesticated rice by using a process that focuses on one gene.

Water-stingy agriculture reduces arsenic in rice markedly

July 28, 2008

A new farming method first developed to conserve precious irrigation water may have the added benefit of producing rice containing much less arsenic than rice grown using traditional rice-farming methods, researchers in the ...

Recommended for you

How winter temps can affect your spring fishing

January 16, 2018

Cold winter weather can play a key role in what you're allowed to fish for next spring. That point was driven home when low temperatures in early January led North Carolina to temporarily bar fishing for spotted seatrout ...

Key player in cell metabolism identified

January 16, 2018

Researchers from the Genomic Instability and Cancer Laboratory at Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have identified a key role for EXD2 in protein production in the mitochondria, the cellular organelles ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.