After three years in development, a team of scientists in China have created a new type of rice that they hope will help in the fight against global warming. The new genetically modified organism (GMO) produces significantly less greenhouse gasses—important news for researchers looking for ways to reduce the huge carbon footprint of rice farming—one of the largest sources of methane gas in the world.
REDUCING THE CARBON FOOTPRINT
Atmospheric methane is the second most dangerous greenhouse gas—right after carbon dioxide—responsible for roughly 20% of the climate change we’ve been feeling since the pre-industrial era. Methane, like other greenhouses, traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. Eventually, methane breaks down into carbon dioxide and ozone, and produces more water vapor in the process—three greenhouse gases largely responsible for global warming.
Rice paddies in China are currently some of the biggest producers of methane gas, with recent studies finding between 25-100 million tons of methane gas emitted by rice farming every year. This is due to a by-product that bacteria found in the roots of ordinary rice produce. The GMO rice SUSIBA2, however, boasts an enhanced root system, due to the scientists’ inclusion of barley DNA, which vastly reduces the amount of this bacteria in the root system, while also giving it a higher yield per plant.
The new type of GMO rice is called SUSIBA2, and was developed by both American and Chinese scientists, led by Chuanxin Sun, a plant biochemist from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. According to the team’s published report in Nature , the new crop has been given DNA from barley as a way to add changes to its root system. This addition of barley DNA to SUSIBA2’s root system gives it the amazing ability to produce 1% of the methane that is normally produced in rice farming, while also increasing rice productivity, as it offers a much higher yield per plant than what is typically grown. Essentially, the new GMO rice variety is able to fight against the production of greenhouse gasses, while increasing food production—what Paul West, a head scientist for the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute calls a “win-win for good yields and reduced climate impact.”
“Right now,” says Chuanxin Sun, “Chinese society is very sensitive,” acknowledging China’s long distrust of growing GMO rice in its fields.
For better or worse, Chinese government has long been known to place tight restrictions around the growing of GMO crops, as they fear their production might bring about unforeseen consequences in the future. While they have never been proved wrong as to the potential harm of GMO farming, without a shift in societal attitudes, the production of the much greener SUSIBA2 will be very difficult.
Hopefully, the new type of GMO rice will one day be accepted by China, utilizing it for its higher yield, while erasing its huge carbon footprint.