New Scientist reports: [edited]
For the first time, a single strain of genetically modified rice has been developed to handle drought, salty soils and lack of fertiliser. The aim is to 'climate-proof' rice farms in Asia and Africa so that they can grow the same variety each year, regardless of the conditions.
Crops have previously been developed that cope with individual environmental stresses such as drought and salt, but this rice is the first to counter three at once.
The salt-tolerance gene came from Arabidopsis thaliana, a type of cress widely used in plant research, and the drought-tolerance gene came from a common soil bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The gene that enables the plant to use nitrogen more efficiently, so that it doesn't need fertiliser, came from barley.
On 21 February, Arcadia announced it had completed two years of trials on the rice. The company compared the performance of its super rice with that of the unmodified parent rice in different environments.
Under a range of drought conditions, the yield of the modified rice was 12 to 17 per cent greater than that of the parent rice. With low levels of fertiliser, its yield was 13 to 18 per cent greater. When exposed to both of these stresses at once, the yield of the modified rice was 15 per cent more than that of the unmodified rice. Trials using a range of salty conditions showed the altered rice had a yield that was as much as 42 per cent more than the parent rice.