News / Science & Technology

Agricultural Research Aims to Improve Harvests on Warmer Planet

Plant physiologist Lewis Ziska has been comparing cultivated rice and a weedy red rice relative for several years for the USDA
Plant physiologist Lewis Ziska has been comparing cultivated rice and a weedy red rice relative for several years for the USDA

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
Zulima Palacio

Climate change has brought dramatic droughts and floods around the world, ruining harvests of important cereal crops and reviving concerns about food security on a warmer planet. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking at cereal crops at risk and their wild, weedy relatives.  The weeds are more resilient under extreme conditions, and seem to be benefiting from climate change, while regular crops suffer.

Plant physiologist Lewis Ziska has been comparing cultivated rice and a weedy red rice relative for several years. The USDA researcher is growing each variety under different temperatures and levels of carbon dioxide. So far, the red rice has flourished under warmer temperatures. It grew faster and produced more seed than the cultivated variety.

"What we have been doing is looking at weedy rice as a unique source of genes that would allow cultivated rice to begin to adapt to still be able to produce very good yields with changes in temperature," said  Ziska.

These environmental growth chambers allow scientists to control heat, humidity and CO2 levels.

"Using these kinds of growth chambers allows us to dial in carbon dioxide concentrations that existed 50 years ago, it allows us to simulate a condition 50 years from now,"  Ziska  added.


"This is normal rice, that I just pick from here," Ziska explained.  "It is a panicle for normal rice, you can see is just starting to flower and starting to produce the seed. Here is the same panicle, everything has been equal, but this is now for the weedy rice. And you can see for the weedy rice how much further along it is."

And chamber four, four degrees warmer than today, replicates the conditions that scientists say the world could experience in 30 to 50 years. Again the weedy rice did better, but the regular rice had a dramatic decline.

"It tends to become sterile," noted  Ziska.  "The flower, the pollen becomes sterile at higher temperatures and as a result of that, the plant may look OK, but you are not going to get any rice seed out of it."

Ziska notes that regular rice cannot tolerate the wide range of climate conditions that red rice, as an adaptable weed, can. What is more important, he says, is that most cereals have a weedy relative.

"What we are doing is what nature does: we are selecting for the best set of genes, but in this case the best set of genes that would respond to a wide set of circumstances, instead of a very narrow set of circumstances," Ziska explained.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Thailand, Vietnam, China and the United States are the world's leading rice producers with four main types of rice traded globally.  Ziska says many people around the world depend on rice for their food and livelihoods.  "Anywhere from two to three billion people," Ziska added.  "It is the principle, most important cereal in the world."

Scientist Lewis Ziska hopes to produce a weedy rice seed that can be offered to farmers within the next 3 to 5 years. He still needs to study the red rice under extreme drought and flooding conditions. He believes in a few decades, it could feed a world facing uncertain and extreme climate conditions.

You May Like

Multimedia Parents of Disaster Ferry Passengers Lash Out at Authorities

Twenty-nine bodies recovered from water but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

US congressional delegation initiates $84 million Agent Orange cleanup project More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid