Twice the Rice

By Lee Anna Sherman

Through genetic engineering, a new breed of rice could fend off crop-damaging diseases and improve human health at the same time.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps plants resist such scourges as bacterial leaf blight and “rice blast,” big problems in Southeast Asia. At the same time, people whose diets are dependent on white rice often suffer from thiamine deficiency.

Enter Oregon State researcher Aymeric Goyer, a plant biologist in Hermiston. The genes that synthesize vitamin B1 in rice are Goyer’s focus. He is collaborating with Pamela Ronald of the University of California, Davis, to develop plants that over-express these genes. Bumping up thiamine and, along with it, disease resistance would mean less pesticide use and greater yields, Goyer says.