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Researchers identify gene crucial for drought resistance in mutant rice

By Bianca Victoria Fulgencio

PHOTO: ISAAA

A team of researchers from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and Nagoya University, Japan discovered a new gene in mutant rice that may possibly aid in the survival of rice plants amid extreme conditions such as drought.

Dr. Nonawin Lucob-Agustin, a participant of the government’s Balik Scientist Program, and the rest of her team identified the gene called wavy root elongation growth 1 or weg1 in a mutant of the rice variety Taichung 65. According to the team, this mutant of Taichung 65 differs from its normal type as this variant sports wavy parental roots as opposed to the typical straight roots. 

The L-type lateral roots of this mutant, which are the tinier roots that come from the parental root, are what can help rice plants last even in unfavorable circumstances as they are more capable of higher-order of branching and are significant for the growth and development of the whole root system. With this, an increase in the collection of nutrients and water from the soil is made possible, and the rice plant’s chances of survival despite challenging occurrences like drought are heightened. 

Dr. Lucob-Agustin has stated that her team is in the process of developing lines utilizing the weg1 to form drought-resistant and high-yielding types of rice.

Considering that rice is a staple food in the Philippines, the discovery of this gene is highly regarded as a turning point for new possibilities. With weg1, rice plants will be able to better cope with intense extremities, especially those situated in lowlands where water is scarce and rely solely on rainfall for irrigation.