UK-Scientists at the University of Sheffield have developed salt-tolerant rice that can be grown in warmer conditions as a measure to lessen food shortages caused by climate change

The innovation was carried out by genetic engineering to explore the impact of the number and size of stomata in the rice plant.

Stomata are openings on the surface of plants that are used to regulate carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis and release water vapor. 

According to the publication in the New Phytologist, the findings and results indicated that reducing the number and size of stomata could make rice grow in warmer temperatures as well as survive prolonged drought.

Rice is arguably the most important food crop globally, relied on by 3.5 billion people every single day, and 30% of the world’s freshwater supply is used to grow the crop.

As climate change affects rising sea levels, many places are struggling with seawater inundation, where salt water from the sea is flooding further inland and destroying crops that can’t cope with the increased salinity.

In Vietnam for instance, it is becoming harder to grow the crop due to increasing seawater interference

For researchers at the University of Sheffield, genetically modified rice could be the answer to salinity.

Consequently, findings from the research revealed that genetic modification of rice to reduce the number and size of stomata could help the plant adapt to survive in environments that are becoming harsher due to climate change, which will help in tackling food insecurity around the globe.

According to Sheffield scientists, the modification has allowed the plant to use lesser water by 60% making them hugely beneficial in places prone to drought

The researcher pointed out that, although the number and size of the stomata are key to drought resistance, the modification makes the rice plant harder to grow in extremely high temperatures hence additional modifications are required to allow the rice to grow in different countries.

“Meanwhile, natural rice varieties with fewer, bigger stomata can thrive in hotter temperatures,” explains Dr. Robert Caine, lead author of the study from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences

The researchers from the University of Sheffield, working alongside the High Agricultural Technology Research Institute in Vietnam, studied 72 natural and genetically modified rice varieties. 

They are now planning to investigate whether they can make dwarf rice varieties, which produce the highest crop yields and are more heat-resistant.

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