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Page added on February 17, 2013

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As world population explodes, genetically modified rice is our best hope


Rod Wing, director of the Arizona Genomics Institute, has played a major role in mapping the structure and function of the world’s primary cereal crops. Rice is the one that needs our immediate attention, he says.

Wing, who will deliver the fourth “Genomics Now” lecture for the University of Arizona’s College of Science on Wednesday, wants to solve the “9 Billion Problem” – the question of how to feed a world population expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

The alternative to a new agricultural revolution, he said, is famine in vast swaths of the world and political instability that threatens the rest of it.

Rice feeds half the planet, he said. Developing drought-resistant rice varieties could increase yields, allow crops to grow on degraded land and require fewer soil amendments.

A few varieties of wild and cultivated rice have some of those traits. Wing’s goal is to develop “green super rice” varieties that combine them and can be adapted to changing climate conditions.

Wing has teamed with Chinese researcher Zhang Qi Fa and other rice experts to push for research centers in six areas of the globe – China, the United States, Africa, India, South America and Europe – each focused on creating the rice varieties that will grow best in their regions.

Their goal is to obtain $9 billion in pledges from government and private sources to fund the effort.

The research targets are ambitious. Wing said the “green” part of the “green super rice” effort is to grow the grain with a lessened environmental footprint, using fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The “super” side means “higher yields, two to three times the yields we have now, with more proteins, vitamins, etc.”

Some of that improvement can be done with conventional breeding methods. But “genetic engineering has to be part of the solution. It’s a tool. We really don’t have another choice,” he said.

All cultivated grains and other foods are genetically engineered, he said, whether in a lab or in a field.

Much of the criticism of genetic modification of foods has been directed at its current usage, limited to producing varieties of corn, soy and wheat that are immune to a specific herbicide or possess a genetically inserted pesticide.

“So far, it’s good at producing traits that work well for a limited set of conditions,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“What would help most is to reduce that yield gap,” he said. “It needs to be done in a way that is resilient to changes of climate and extremes of weather.”

A 2010 National Research Council report, the work of a panel of scientists assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, came to a similar conclusion.

It found that “genetic engineering could be used in more crops, in novel ways beyond herbicide and insect resistance, and for a greater diversity of purposes. With proper management, genetic-engineering technology could help address food insecurity by reducing yield losses through its introduction into other crops and with the development of other yield protection traits like drought tolerance.”

It’s not an easy problem, said Wing, but it is imminent.

“This is going to happen unless we have a nuclear war or a pandemic. We really have only 25 years to solve this problem.”


• What: “Genomics Now,” UA College of Science lecture series

• When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Jan. 30 to March 6

• Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 W. University Blvd.

• Cost: Free

• Parking: Tyndall Avenue Garage is most convenient. A fee is charged. Note: The intersection of North Park Avenue and East University Boulevard is closed for streetcar construction. Take North Euclid Avenue to the East Fourth Street entrance to the garage.

• Information: 520-621-4090 or

AZ Star

12 Comments on "As world population explodes, genetically modified rice is our best hope"

  1. BillT on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 3:28 pm 

    Oink! Oink! More piggys at the taxpayer trough. These are only a good idea if you can save the seed and replant the next year and get the same results. Otherwise, it is a trap to get farmers locked into buying new seed every year.

    This appears to be a sucker bet…

    How do you raise rice when the temps are 4-6C hotter and it doesn’t rain…at all? Gene manip? lol

  2. SilentRunning on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 4:51 pm 

    Correction: Stopping the population explosion was our best hope.

    NO amount of technology can overcome the relentless mathematics of exponential growth. At only 1% growth per year, in only 10,000 years ever atom in the observable universe would have to be part of a human body.

    In only 5000 years, ever atom of the earth would have to be part of a human body. How would that EVER work.

    No – the ONLY solution is to come to a 0% growth rate of human population. The ONLY question is – do we do it rationally and humanely – or with war, starvation and cannibalism.

  3. mike on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 4:57 pm 

    The terrible thing is that it’s going to be people like this that are the solution to the overpopulation problem by sadly dying off. While the rest of us become more resilient and power down, they will still be trying to find the “solution” and many of these intellectuals will be left totally helpless and useless in the future .

  4. Kenz300 on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 6:43 pm 

    Maybe the elephant in the room is OVER POPULATION.

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    Access to family planning services needs to be available to all that want it.

  5. GregT on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 6:59 pm 

    “Stopping the population explosion was our best hope.” Yes, with a big emphasis on WAS.

    Our exploitation of cheap, easy, and abundant energy is what got us into this mess. What we have sown, we are about to reap, and there is no easy way out. Prepare now, while there is still some time left, no one else is going to do it for you.

  6. Fulton J. Waterloo on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 9:24 pm 

    The problem is we believe that, in America at least, there are millions of people out there who desperately desire “family planning” and do not have access to it. Sadly, the problem in America is now the problem of runaway “irresposible procreation.” At one local 7/11 I frequented last year, all three young women decided they wanted a baby because they wanted one!(?) With over 50% of al births to women under 30 in America now occuring in single parent households, this is now an epidemic. In the African-American community, it is running between 70-80%. This is not a question of people not knowing “how babies are made,” but an often conscious decision to have a child, regardless of the consequences. This is a cultural FAIL, not a question of buying a condom…

  7. GregT on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 10:39 pm 

    My neighbour’s 19 year old daughter decided that it would be cool, to put it in her own words, to have a “black baby”. She went out to a local night club, purposely had a one night stand with a “black” guy, and never saw him again. Nine months later she had her cute little “black baby boy”, and then reality set in. Guess who is paying for him.

  8. Terri on Sun, 17th Feb 2013 11:34 pm 

    I guess we are doomed to war, famine and cannibalism after all.

    Remember the trailer trash hiding in holes in the ground during the age of the Dinosaurs inherited this Earth due to a cosmic cataclysm called Chixculub. And like rats our closest brothers human beings can only kill and destroy without ever giving back to the ecosystem. And yes it seems dinosaurs were actually superior to us and able to better manage this planet during a 160 million years reign… I am sad for Chixculub.

  9. Kenjamkov on Mon, 18th Feb 2013 7:33 am 

    GMO grains that grow with less water will deplete the soils of all nutrients. People will get little or no nutrition from the new GMOs and the top soil will turn to dust.
    How can a GMO grain produce more nutrition if it has no nutrients in the soil?

  10. GregT on Mon, 18th Feb 2013 4:52 pm 

    What we refer to as “top soil”, is nothing more than a sponge to which we apply derivatives of oil, to grow our food.

    If genetically modified rice truly is our “best hope”, then we are royally screwed.

  11. charlie bucket on Mon, 18th Feb 2013 5:58 pm 

    My sister-in-law has 4 illegitimate black children from 3 different guys! Seriously insane! My wife and I chose to not have children but what good does that do when there are people out there willing to squirt out children left and right until we all starve! It is the NUMBER 1 reason why we are in such a fu3king mess right now. Stop fu3king procreating; there are 7 billion people and counting…. THAT IS ENOUGH! All you are doing is inviting more misery and suffering upon this planet and all the creatures therein!

  12. Ross on Mon, 18th Feb 2013 9:20 pm 

    SRI (System of Rice Intensification) is part of the answer to the global food shortage. Using techniques taught in this video, farmers have been known to increase rice crop yields by an astounding 200-300% – without chemicals, nor mutilated genes.

    Part 1:

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