GMO Rice Reduces Methane Output

On it’s face, the following story about genetically engineered rice seems much more innocuous than the vast majority of genetic engineering schemes. But one still has to question the wisdom of splicing different species of genes together. Maybe methane is necessary in order for rice to be digestible? Perhaps we don’t know all that we think we know about the biological processes of life? I mean, if I actually knew half as much as I thought I knew when I was sixteen, it would be amazing. It seems as though in our efforts to run full steam ahead into a Brave New World, we probably getting ahead of ourselves. Anyway, here is the article about a different type of GMO rice:

Genetic engineering creates rice strain that makes less methane

Rice agriculture has become one of the most powerful anthropogenic sources of methane, due to continuously growing world population. “We would get more starch, more food, and less methane”, explains Dr Jansson, now director of plant sciences at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“Until now, nobody actually achieved success in altering rice plants” the Dutch scientist said.

Already in 2002, scientists reported that the more grain carried by rice plants, the less methane they emitted. Chuanxin Sun of the Swedish university and senior author of the study added a single gene from barley to rice, then planted it in a field next to a conventional rice field in China. By reducing the size of the rice plants’ roots, the scientists hoped that they could curb the amount of methane produced in the fields. As a result, the world’s rice paddies emit between 25 million and 100 million metric tons of methane every year. Since the low-methane strain of rice isn’t bred to be herbicide or pesticide resistant, this most likely won’t be an issue with this particular strain – though the way that its root-system interacts with microbes in the soil is something to watch. With less carbon in the roots, there is less raw material for the microbes to work on, the researchers explain. Without more trials, Bodelier wrote, it’s hard to know how the genetic modification impacts the rice cultivar’s long-term chances for survival. Far fewer methane-producing bacteria hugged the roots of the new rice. Crops like Roundup-resistant soy or corn have led to a marked increase in the use of herbicides in the United States, though some studies have also shown that genetically modified crops have led to a decrease in the use of some pesticides.

The methane is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic matter in the rice paddies. The reduction in methane emissions was particularly effective during the summers, when they were down to 0.3 percent of total emissions from the plant’s decomposition, compared to 10 percent emissions in the conventional crop.

Unlike golden rice where a totally alien gene was introduced into the group, here the change is not major but still could have unintended consequences, Paul Bodelier, a microbial ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen told CSM. Therefore, a need for developing a new rice variety that reduces methane emissions was recognized. Genetically engineered rice isn’t commercially cultivated anywhere in the world, in part because of ethical and biological concerns about the spread of engineered rice pollen, experts said.


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