Research stopping blast wins Year of Rice award

ROME, Italy, October 8, 2004 (ENS): Two rice scientists from two of the world's greatest rice consuming countries have jointly earned the top scientific prize in this, the United Nations International Year of Rice.

Scientists from China and from Japan have won the International Year of Rice Global Scientific Contest, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Rice Research Institute announced Wednesday.

Dr. Youyong Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University in China and Dr. Takuji Sasaki, director of the Genome Research Department at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan, have been selected for their contributions to the advancement of rice research. They were chosen from nominations contributed by more than 800 rice scientists and researchers worldwide.

"Both papers clearly deserve their respective awards not only for the scientific excellence but also because of their potential impact and importance to the international rice industry," said Ronald Cantrell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute.

"The fact that these awards were given based on the judgement of their peers is also something Drs. Sasaki and Zhu can be justifiably very proud of," Cantrell said.

The paper by Dr. Youyong Zhu and his research team, "Genetic diversity and disease control in rice," has been awarded first prize in the rice agronomy category. The article can be found in the August 2000 issue of the journal "Nature."

Dr. Zhu's study demonstrated that utilizing the genetic diversity within rice varieties can reduce the severity of rice blast, a fungal disease affecting rice crops. In Yunnan, monocropped glutinous rice, which commands a premium price in the Chinese market, suffered yield losses of more than 45 percent because of blast. Farmers had to spray fungicides seven to eight times throughout the growing season to control the disease.

By intercropping high value, but blast susceptible glutinous rice, with hybrid indica rice varieties, Yunnan farmers achieved 92 to 99 percent control of rice blast and produced up to one ton more grain per hectare compared with indica rice monocropping, which is the traditional way of growing rice in the region.

The article by Dr. Takuji Sasaki and his team, "The genome sequence and structure of rice chromosome 1," has been awarded first prize in the rice breeding category. Their article is found in the November 2002 issue of "Nature."

Dr. Sasaki's paper reported the successful identification of the essentially complete sequence of chromosome 1, the longest chromosome in the rice genome. This breakthrough is expected to assist breeders in determining gene function, making it possible to better identify and select rice varieties with beneficial traits.

"The successful mapping of the rice genome will assist plant breeders in their efforts to develop rice varieties with increased yield potential, resistance to stress, and improved nutrient content," said Louise Fresco, assistant director-general of the Agriculture Department in the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Drs. Zhu and Sasaki will be recognized at a ceremony on the occasion of World Food Day, October 14, 2004, in Rome. They will be presented with medals on behalf of their research and writing teams.

Three weeks later, rice research is again in the spotlight when the world’s top rice scientists gather in Japan for the World Rice Research Conference.

A climactic event of the United Nations’ International Year of Rice, the conference will take place in the Japanese science city of Tsukuba on November 5 to 7 after an opening ceremony in Tokyo on November 4.

Conference participants will present papers on the latest scientific knowledge in four key areas:

  • Innovative technologies for boosting rice production.
  • Perspectives on the place of rice in healthy lifestyles.
  • Adaptable rice based systems that help improve everybody’s livelihoods.
  • The role of rice in environmentally sustainable food security.

“We’re pleased and honored to be a partner in such an important international event,” said Dr. Cantrell of the International Rice Research Institute, who called the event "our most important conference in the International Year of Rice."

“Considering the momentous and historic recent changes and breakthroughs in rice science - such as the sequencing of the rice genome, the development of nutritional rice and aerobic rice, as well as the introduction of plant variety rights," said Cantrell, "the World Rice Research Conference comes at a crucial time for the international rice industry."
Rice remains the staple food of more than half of humanity, according to the International Rice Research Institute.

In Asia, where 90 percent of all rice is grown and consumed, more than two billion people obtain 60 to 70 percent of their calories from rice. More than half of the world’s 1.3 billion poor are Asian rice farmers and consumers, and Asia’s poorest - urban slum dwellers and rural landless - still spend up to 40 percent of their income on rice.

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