Scientists Improve Rye Grass, Rice

Published October 1, 2006

Hay fever may take a diminished toll on allergy sufferers thanks to a just-announced genetic breakthrough.

Scientists have isolated two proteins–LOLP1 and LOLP2–that are responsible for the allergic misery many people feel as a result of exposure to rye grass. Scientists have conducted a successful field trial in which people allergic to rye grass felt no ill effects after exposure to genetically modified rye grass.

“The initial results from the first field trial indicate that the sole difference between the low-allergen ryegrass and the allergenic grass is simply the accumulation levels of the allergen,” reported Prof. German Spangenberg, a scientist with the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria, Australia.

Spangenberg’s team of scientists also noted the improved rye grass is more nutritious and easier for cattle to digest.

The new grass will be subjected to several years of substantial government testing before it can be made commercially available.

Rice Improvements

In another notable development, scientists at the University of California at Davis have identified a gene that will allow rice to survive for longer periods while submerged during seasonal flooding.

Farmers in Southeast Asia lose approximately $1 billion worth of rice production each year due to seasonal monsoons. Although rice needs plenty of moisture to thrive, rice plants cannot survive more than a week under water. But scientists have isolated a gene (Sub1A-1) that doubles the time rice plants can survive while submerged.

This is a groundbreaking development for a plant that is the main food staple for the world’s most populous region. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, nearly half the world’s population relies on rice as a staple food source. Efforts to produce a more flood-tolerant rice plant have been ongoing for half a century.

“These newly developed rice varieties will help ensure a more dependable food supply for poor farmers and their families,” predicted Dr. David Mackill, one of the scientists responsible for the breakthrough.

Political Roadblocks

Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, warned that despite the scientific success of the research, political scare tactics have held up improvements in rice plants before.

“Even the mere field testing of a product as potentially life-saving as Golden Rice–which was bioengineered to express beta carotene–has been held up for years by political opposition,” Conko observed. “And even though we know that Golden Rice is safe to eat and harmless for the environment, there is no reason to expect it will be allowed on the market any time soon in the countries where it is truly needed.”

James M. Taylor

For more information …

“Waterproof rice gene identified,” Truth About Trade and Technology,