Updated on 23 August 2012
"We have now hit the jackpot and found PSTOL1, the major gene responsible for improved phosphorus uptake and understand how it works," Dr Heuer said.
According to Dr Wricha Tyagi at the School of Crop Improvement at the Central Agricultural University in the Indian state of Meghalaya, knowledge of the exact gene will be critical for future breeding programs suited to Eastern and North-Eastern parts of India where rice productivity is less than 40 percent of the national average due to acidic soil and poor availability of phosphorus.
The discovery of the PSTOL1 gene means that rice growers will be able to breed new rice varieties faster and more easily, and with 100 percent certainty their new rice will have the gene. Dr Joko Prasetiyono of the Institute for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development in Indonesia is breeding rice plants with the PSTOL1 gene. The plants are not genetically modified but bred using smart modern breeding techniques.
"In field tests in Indonesia and the Philippines, rice with the PSTOL1 gene produced about 20 percent more grain than rice without the gene," said Dr Heuer. "In our pot experiments," she added, "when we use soil that is really low in phosphorus, we see yield increases of 60 percent and more, suggesting it will be very effective in soils low in phosphorus, such as in upland rice fields that are not irrigated and where farmers are often very poor."
The PSTOL1 gene is also being tested in rice varieties for the more productive irrigated rice-growing areas and initial results show that the plants grow a better root system and have higher production too. This means it could help farmers in these areas reduce their fertilizer use and expenditure without compromising productivity.