Rice feeds over half the people on Earth. The trouble is that rice paddies are the world’s largest source of methane. Their warm, waterlogged soils and nutrients from rice roots produce up to 17% of global emissions. This is significant because methane traps 20 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a genetically engineered strain of rice that not only produces almost no methane but also more grain.
The new strain was created by introducing a single gene from barley to common rice. This master regulator gene triggers several other genes and causes the rice plant to divert more carbon to its grains, leaves and stems as happens in barley. The result is that the microbes in the paddy soils around the rice plant roots, which normally generate methane, are starved and crop yields are increased.
The modified rice strain is the result of over tens years of work involving scientists from the United States, Sweden and China. It has undergone three years of field trials in China.