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

    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

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora