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[MANILA] A new field of rice research might provide sources of DNA for future studies and even clues about how ancient rice plants behaved during prehistoric periods when temperatures were extremely high, experts suggest.

Archaeobotany involves studying the changing human use and management of plants over a long period. It recovers and studies plant remains preserved at archaeological sites.

Dorian Fuller, a lecturer from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, United Kingdom, introduced the discipline of archaeobotany  during the 7th International Rice Genetics Symposium this week (5-8 November) in Manila organised by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Fuller explained that archaeobotany is a combination of the words archaeology and botany, and involves the study of human plant use in prehistory, the reconstruction of agricultural systems, the origins and spread of agriculture, and approaches to interpreting archaeobotanical evidence.

He pointed out the shallowness of research only focusing on modern genetics. He said artefacts such as pottery can contain fragments of rice DNA. Archaeobotany also helps map out the archaeological evidence for the spread of rice. But the changing environment and landscape have left big gaps in the archaeological evidence, Fuller said.

Hei Leung, principal scientist and programme leader on genetic diversity and gene discovery at IRRI, says that “the ancient DNA rice study is interesting and possibly could lead to better understanding of how ancient wild rice adapted to climate when temperature and rainfall were higher”, a future scenario predicted under climate change.

He says it could also possibly result in the discovery of new genes from ancient wild rice species that could help researchers develop improved rice plants that are better able to adapt to future climate, especially if scientific advances mean DNA remains can be gathered from ancient rice that exists before human existence.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.