Baramullla, Jan 12: An assistant professor in the University of California Davis, Department of Plant Sciences, from Baramulla district and his team have developed a groundbreaking genetic tool that could allow for the efficient, large-scale production of hybrid rice.
Imtiyaz Khanday is co-leading the international team that has propagated a commercial hybrid rice strain as a clone through seeds with 95 percent efficiency.
A resident of Khanday Mohalla of Pattan in Baramulla district, Khanday and his team have developed a ground breakthrough that could lower the cost of hybrid rice seed, making high-yielding, disease-resistant rice strains available to low-income farmers worldwide.
The work has been supported in part by funding from the Innovative Genomics Institute and the France-Berkeley Fund.
According to a statement issued by the University, the new genetic method will solve a long-standing problem for seed breeders and farmers.
The statement said that the first-generation hybrids of crop plants often show higher performance than their parent strains, a phenomenon called hybrid vigor. But this does not persist if the hybrids are bred together for a second generation.
"When farmers want to use high-performing hybrid plant varieties, they need to buy new seed each season. That cost is an enormous burden to small farmers in developing countries," the statement added.
While quoting Gurdev Khush, adjunct professor emeritus in the Department of Plant Sciences, the communique from University said that rice, the staple crop for half the world’s population, is relatively costly to breed as a hybrid for a yield improvement of about 10 percent.
"This means that the benefits of rice hybrids have yet to reach many of the world’s farmers," Khush said.
Khush said that the solution to this would be to propagate hybrids as clones that would remain identical from generation to generation without further breeding. Many wild plants can produce seeds that are clones of themselves, a process called apomixis.
“Once you have the hybrid, if you can induce apomixis, then you can plant it every year,” Khush said.
However, transferring apomixis to a major crop plant has proven difficult.
In 2019, Professor Imtiyaz Khanday and Venkatesan Sundaresan, of the UC Davis Department of Plant Biology, achieved apomixis in rice plants, with about 30 percent of seeds being clones.
Now, Khanday, Sundaresan and colleagues in France, Germany and Ghana have achieved a clonal efficiency of 95 percent, using a commercial hybrid rice strain. They have also shown that the process could be sustained for at least three generations.
The single-step process involves modifying three genes called MiMe which cause the plant to switch from meioisis, the process that plants use to form egg cells, to mitosis, in which a cell divides into two copies of itself. Another gene modification induces apomixis. The result is a seed that can grow into a plant genetically identical to its parent.
"The method would allow seed companies to produce hybrid seeds more rapidly and at larger scale, as well as providing seed that farmers could save and replant from season to season," Khush as per the University statement said.
“Apomixis in crop plants has been the target of worldwide research for over 30 years, because it can make hybrid seed production accessible to everyone,” Sundaresan, the department statement said.
“The resulting increase in yields can help meet global needs of an increasing population without having to increase use of land, water and fertilizers to unsustainable levels.”
Sundaresan said that the results could be applied to other food crops.
In particular, rice is a genetic model for cereal crops including maize and wheat, which with rice constitute major food staples for the world.