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[BEIJING] Scientists have identified a gene that enables rice to survive for up to two weeks underwater, raising the possibility of breeding varieties that can withstand what would otherwise be damaging floods.

A quarter of the world's rice grows in areas prone to flooding, which costs rice farmers in South and South-East Asia more than US$1 billion a year. 

Although rice thrives in standing water, most varieties die within a week of being completely submerged. But others can tolerate being totally submerged for up to two weeks.

The researchers, who published their findings today (10 August) in Nature, studied the DNA of one such variety. They found it has a gene that intolerant varieties lack.

When they introduced the gene into a high-yielding rice variety grown widely in Asia, they found it kept its high yield but could also tolerate being totally submerged.

David Mackill of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and Pamela Ronald of the University of California in Davis, United States, led the international team.

Mackill told SciDev.Net that scientists would be able to crossbreed submergence-tolerant rice with varieties that are already popular with farmers.

Link to full paper in Nature

Link to related commentary article in Nature

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