Profs Tammy Sage and Rowan Sage awarded grant from the Canadian International Development Agency to assist efforts of the International Rice Research Institute and the C4 Rice Consortium to guide breeding and engineering for improved rice yields.
Rice is the leading staple for almost half of the world’s population. To keep up with the world’s expanding population and maintain global food security, rice production will have to improve by a minimum of 60 million tons every year. This observation is alarming given that rice yields have declined significantly over the past 32 years with increases in global temperature. With predicted increases in global temperature in coming decades of 2 to 4°C, maintaining existing rice yield is doubtful without major technological innovations (IPCC, 2007). To meet its commitments to future rice consumers of the world, scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have identified increasing rice photosynthesis as one of the strategic priorities for the new millennium (http://C4rice.irri.org). Efforts are now underway at IRRI to improve rice photosynthesis and growth by engineering the more efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway into rice, a crop that uses the less efficient C3 photosynthetic pathway. The research in this CGIAR-Canada linkage fund grant links Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto with the ambitious new IRRI program to supercharge photosynthesis by engineering the C4 photosynthetic pathway into rice. Working with IRRI scientists, the team in Toronto under the direction of Dr. Tammy L. Sage will assess the function of the specialized rice leaf anatomy, and evaluate its potential to be reconfigured to conduct C4 photosynthesis. The results will immediately guide the engineering decisions of the IRRI C4 rice program as well as identify novel ways to improve photosynthesis in non-C4 rice plants and other C3 crops. By contributing to the effort to supercharge rice photosynthesis, the research directly supports IRRI’s principle mission of reducing poverty, ensuring a sustainable rice supply, improving nutrition and health of rice consumers, and providing rice scientists worldwide with information needed to improve rice production.