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Entire genetic diversity of rice to be revealed and shared

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Manila, Philippines – The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is inviting the global rice science community to join its vision to reveal the genetic diversity of more than 109,000 different types of rice and to make it available for rice breeders and farmers worldwide to breed and develop new rice varieties.

The vision aims to sequence the genomes, or all the genetic information, of all different types of rice in the International Rice Genebank - the world's most comprehensive collection of rice genetic diversity including wild rice, rice's ancestors, and traditional, heirloom and modern varieties.

"If we can sequence the genomes of all types of rice we have truly opened the door to understanding the rich genetic diversity of rice, to help conserve that diversity better and to use it to breed improved rice varieties," said IRRI Director General, Dr. Robert Zeigler. 

"In 2005, the sequencing of the first type of rice was a milestone. However, the genome sequence of one type of rice does not reflect the immense genetic diversity of all types of rice."

"All rice types need to be sequenced to capture the entire genetic diversity of rice. Rapidly progressing technologies have made this a realistic goal - achievable within a few years."

IRRI already shares seeds from the International Rice Genebank with farmers and rice breeders worldwide, the genome information from the sequencing will also be shared.

Speaking at the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium (RG6) in Manila, Dr. Zeigler outlined a plan to achieve the vision that involves empowering national research and breeding programs from major rice-growing countries, and training the next generation of rice scientists.

The announcement is one of many rice research projects highlighted at RG6 where more than 700 leading international rice scientists are meeting to share knowledge on rice genetics.

"The real power of genome sequencing will be when we identify which genes are responsible for which traits," said Dr. Zeigler. "To do this we will need to collaborate with our global scientific partners across the public and private sector - RG6 is the perfect place to start this process.

"New rice varieties developed using the genetic diversity of rice have already helped double rice yields in the last fifty years, helping keep food prices low, averting famine, and preventing many natural ecosystems being converted to farmland.

"Sequencing the genomes of the entire collection of the International Rice Genebank will provide a platform that rice breeders can use to rapidly identify the genetic source of beneficial rice traits such as pest and disease resistance or the capacity to cope with climate change.

"These genes and their associated traits can then be bred into new rice varieties better able to cope with difficult growing conditions and with the capacity for higher yields," he concluded.

IRRI will now look for partners and donors to support its vision.