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Over the next 50 years, the world’s population is expected to increase by a third, to some 8 billion. Much of this rise will be in southeast Asia, where half the population is already poorly nourished.

Global production of rice, the world’s most important staple crop, has risen threefold over the past three decades. But yields are fast approaching a theoretical limit set by the crop’s efficiency in harvesting sunlight and using its energy to make carbohydrates.

So to feed the world, rice may have to be re-engineered at the biochemical level. Scientists are currently working to manipulate rice genes to boost the plant’s photosynthetic efficiency.

Reference: Nature 416, 576 (2002)

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