Rice is a main food source for much of humanity in the world including Egypt, but rice cultivation is particularly water intensive—using an estimated 2,500 litres of water per kg of rice produced.
However, almost half of the global rice crop derives from rain-fed agricultural systems, where drought and high temperatures are predicted to become more frequent and damaging under climate change.
Recently, the Egyptian government decided to decrease the area of cultivated land of rice, due to shortage of water resources amid the dispute of Nile waters with Ethiopia. The government justified its resolution as rice consumes a lot of water.
Professor of Genetics at Faculty of Agriculture, Zagazig University, Saeed Soliman, was working for a long time in progressing new species of rice that resist drought and use less amount of water.
Soliman told Daily News Egypt that he has developed a species of rice named “Oraby” after the political leader Ahmed Oraby who is the symbol of Zagazig University, the age of that species of engineered rice takes about 120 days compared to 145 days for normal rice. He added that Oraby rice could be cultivated twice in the year.
Oraby rice could be cultivated on all kinds of land, as it was successfully cultivated in Tushka in the sandy soil, and in the clay soil.
According to Soliman, it is possible to cultivate 2m feddans of the engineered rice with the same amount of water, which is allocated to irrigate 1m feddans of normal rice, and Oraby rice will achieve an increase in productivity by 2m tonnes of rice, meaning one tonne per feddan.
According to a new study by scientists from the University of Sheffield, England, the engineered rice lines with low stomatal density used just 60% of the normal amount of water and were able to survive drought and high temperatures for longer than unaltered plants. The study revealed that the engineered rice plants to have fewer stomata—tiny openings used for gas exchange—have more tolerance to drought and resilient to future climate change.
The researchers of the study which was recently published in New Phytologist journal discovered that engineering a high-yielding rice cultivar to have reduced stomatal density, helps the crop to conserve water and to survive high temperatures and drought.
Like most plants, rice uses microscopic pores called stomata to regulate carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis, along with the release of water vapour via transpiration. When water is plentiful, stomatal opening also permits regulation of plant temperature by evaporative cooling. Under water-limiting drought conditions, stomatal closure normally slows down water loss. Low stomatal density rice conserves its water better under drought, and so has more water left to cool itself when necessary.
Lead author of the study and professor of Plant Molecular Biology, Julie Gray, said that, “stomata helps plants to regulate their water use, so this study could have a significant impact on other crops which are at risk under climate change. At the University of Sheffield we believe in a sustainable future and work towards solutions to the most pressing global challenges.”
“Future predicted decreases in water availability, combined with increased frequency of extreme drought and high temperature events, are likely to present particular challenges for farmers, resulting in substantial crop loss,” said Robert Caine, Research Associate from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and Principal Investigator of the study.
Caine added, “our study has shown that rice plants with fewer stomata are drought tolerant and more conservative in their water use. This means they should perform better in the future under climate change conditions,” explaining, “we found that the engineered rice crops gave equivalent or even improved yields, which means it could have a massive impact on our future food security, which is threatened by climate change.”
According to the paper, the low stomatal density rice plants were able to survive drought and high temperature (40 degrees Celsius) for longer than unaltered plants when grown at elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.