Genetic 'super rice' could double grain yield by 2008

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2001, 12:00am

A genetically engineered 'super rice' that could double the yield of normal grain is expected to be introduced by 2008 under a joint research project by Chinese scientists from Hong Kong, the US and the mainland.

The 'third generation super-hybrid rice' was expected to help feed China's growing population, the director of China National Hybrid Rice Research, Professor Yuan Longping, said yesterday.

'The population in China is growing but there is less and less arable land,' he said. 'We have to increase the crop yield by using new technology.'

The yield of normal rice is about 360kg per mu, a Chinese land unit equivalent to .06 hectares. First-generation hybrid rice, which is feeding half of the population of China, provides about 450kg per mu, while the super rice might reach 900kg per mu.

Also taking part in the project, which is costing more than $30 million, are Professor Maurice Ku, of the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, and Professor Samuel Sun Sai-ming and Professor Lam Hon-ming, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The process involves speeding up growth by inserting the corn gene into the hybrid rice. An extract of a gene from wing bean will also be used to improve the rice's stress resistance. The genetic arrangement of the hybrid rice will then be adjusted to improve its texture.

Professor Sun said: 'Normal hybrid rice is of bad quality as it becomes soggy when cooked as the starch easily dissolves in water. The rice we have in Hong Kong is of grade A, but hybrid rice is only grade B or C. We have to improve its quality.'

Laboratory work will be carried out at Chinese University by more than 30 researchers. The super rice, which will probably be ready in 2004, will be sent to the mainland for trial.

Professor Sun said he hoped it eventually would go on sale on the Hong Kong market.

But a campaigner of Greenpeace China, Lo Sze-ping, said genetically-engineered food was potentially dangerous.

'Even taking out the gene from food is dangerous. The point is that we know too little about genes. We don't know what the consequence is if a gene from elsewhere is inserted in food . . . Genetic engineering is an unfulfilled and unproven promise,' he said.