ANU shares in funding for rice research

8 December 2015

ANU crop scientists have been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their quest to improve rice production by 50 per cent, as part of a global alliance led by scientists at Oxford University.

The C4 Rice Project has received funding for a third phase of its drive to develop a strain of rice with double the water efficiency, increased tolerance to high temperatures and improved nitrogen usage.

"The C4 Rice Project is a long-term global effort to tackle the biggest challenge of our future: feeding the world population," said ANU Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and one of the co-leaders of the C4 Rice Australian Node.

Rice is a staple for nearly half of the world's population, but uses an inefficient photosynthesis method to harness energy from the sun to grow and thrive.

The scientists believe they can improve rice production by 50 per cent if they can modify rice to use a more efficient photosynthesis method, the C4 pathway, which makes sugarcane and sorghum grow quickly, instead of the C3 pathway that current rice plants use.

ANU Professor Robert Furbank said it was exciting to receive the continued funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via the University of Oxford.

"It is an ambitious project that aims to ensure food security with a quantum leap in rice yields," said Professor Furbank, from the ANU Node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.

Professor Jane Langdale, from the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University, and Principal Investigator on Phase III of the C4 Rice Project, said the increase of 50 per cent over the next 35 years was crucial to feed the world.

"Traditional rice breeding programs have hit a yield barrier. The world is facing an unprecedented level of food shortages."

The C4 Rice Project was initiated in 2008 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, following discussions led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Researchers at the Australian National University have been part of the project since its inception.

Phase III of the project is a collaboration between 12 institutions in eight countries funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.