Friday, July 12, 2013

The C4 -Rice Project

One of the most fascinating thing that is happening in the Philippines is something called the C4 rice project that is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Philippine has one of the most advance, if not the most advance, research institute on rice, known as IRRI - International Rice Research Institute - situated in Los Banos, Laguna. It is a Global, Independent, Non-Profit research organisation that was originally fundedin 1960 by the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Philippines government.

The C4 project is potentially one of the most important project in agriculture in decades maybe even in a century. The immediate application is for rice but potentially its impact can be wide ranging..

Essentially the project seek to genetically engineer rice, through changing its photosynthetic process itself, to increase biomass, potentially increasing yield by 50%. The gist of it is that 98% of plant has a certain type of photosynthesis pathway called C3 but some, sorghum, maize, sugarcane, have something call C4, that is more efficient and converts more carbon, into more biomass. The project aim to identify the genes responsible for C4 and then using gene therapy insert it into existing rice species. 

The project idea actually began nearly two decades ago, but around 2005/2006, due to advances in genome technology, the idea resurfaced and in 2009, the Gates Foundation and UK Aid funded it for 3 years.

They have identified a good deal of the crucial genes for the C4 photosynthesis and started producing prototypes and testing them.. Its estimated the research will last another decade or so before it will produce a functioning C4 rice.

What is most fascinating is that the knowledge and techniques that will be accumulated will not only be also applicable to other crops, although potentially more complicated,  but it will also help with other vegetation even produce new species that would make better animal feed, better bio-fuel - possibly even solve global warming.

Those who think Philippines is not a "happening:" place, just have no idea. These stuff are trully cutting edge.