Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent

John Innes Centre scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent
Dr Tony Miller

In collaboration with researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University, Dr Tony Miller from the John Innes Centre has developed rice crops with an improved ability to manage their own pH levels, enabling them to take up significantly more nitrogen, iron and phosphorous from soil and increase yield by up to 54 percent.

Rice is a major crop, feeding almost 50 percent of the world's population and has retained the ability to survive in changing environmental conditions. The crop is able to thrive in flooded paddy fields - where the soggy, anaerobic conditions favour the availability of ammonium - as well as in much drier, drained soil, where increased oxygen means more is available. nitrogen fertilizer is a major cost in growing many cereal crops and its overuse has a negative .

The nitrogen that all plants need to grow is typically available in the form of nitrate or ammonium ions in the soil, which are taken up by the plant roots. For the plant, getting the right balance of nitrate and ammonium is very important: too much ammonium and plant cells become alkaline; too much nitrate and they become acidic. Either way, upsetting the pH balance means the plant's enzymes do not work as well, affecting plant health and crop yield.

Together with the partners in Nanjing, China, Dr Miller's team has been working out how can maintain pH under these changing environments.

Rice contains a gene called OsNRT2.3, which creates a protein involved in nitrate transport. This one gene makes two slightly different versions of the protein: OsNRT2.3a and OsNRT2.3b. Following tests to determine the role of both versions of the protein, Dr Miller's team found that OsNRT2.3b is able to switch nitrate transport on or off, depending on the internal pH of the plant cell.

When this 'b' protein was overexpressed in rice plants they were better able to buffer themselves against pH changes in their environment. This enabled them to take up much more nitrogen, as well as more iron and phosphorus. These rice plants gave a much higher yield of rice grain (up to 54 percent more yield), and their nitrogen use efficiency increased by up to 40 percent.

Dr Miller said:

"Now that we know this particular protein found in rice plants can greatly increase efficiency and yields, we can begin to produce new varieties of rice and other crops. These findings bring us a significant step closer to being able to produce more of the world's food with a lower environmental impact."

This new technology has been patented by PBL, the John Innes Centre's innovation management company, and has already been licensed to 3 different companies to develop new varieties of 6 different crop species.

Explore further

Scientists discover missing link in plant nitrogen fixation process

More information: Xiaorong Fan et al. Overexpression of a pH-sensitive nitrate transporter in rice increases crop yields, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1525184113
Provided by John Innes Centre
Citation: Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent (2016, June 7) retrieved 17 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 07, 2016
Because "patented" GMO Crops have been such as success in India and elsewhere in the world and people are demanding them?

So now "Scientists" discover another "patented" way to insure misery and starvation for those who are not among the Elite.

Just wow.


Jun 07, 2016
Fundamental information has been discovered and spread. Now we know more about rice biology. What's wrong with that?
Benefitting from that information means making GM rice to take advantage of the protein's behavior. Without genetic engineering the discovery is an academic one.
The private organization funding the research has (justifiably) patented their invention built from the results of the research. Now you can choose to benefit from their investment by licensing their product or you can wait for the patent to expire.
You'll note it was the 'innovation management unit' that patented, not the researcher. This "scientist" is a scientist.

In what way does this discovery inflict misery and starvation? Rice genetics research has vastly improved yields in India over the last 40 years. Not every discovery can be exploited with a chemical fertilizer or a directed breeding program. Sometimes a more direct approach is necessary.

Hate companies, fine. Don't hate GMOs or scientists.

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