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2-Plants: Tsunami-surviving rice may have salt-tolerance genes

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TITLE:  Tsunami-surviving rice may have salt-tolerance genes
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by T. V. Padma
DATE:   1 Jul 2005

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Tsunami-surviving rice may have salt-tolerance genes

[NEW DELHI] Nine varieties of rice that survived in fields flooded by
seawater when last year's Indian Ocean tsunami struck are the subject of
a hunt for salt-tolerance genes.

Indian scientists -- from the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in
Chennai, the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and the Indian Agriculture
Research Institute in Delhi -- observed the plants growing in waterlogged
fields in Tamil Nadu state.

Researchers now aim to identify genes that helped the rice plants survive
the salty conditions, and which could be used to develop improved salt-
tolerant varieties.

When the tsunami struck on 26 December last year, seawater intruded three
kilometres into the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, depositing 30-centimetre
thick sediments and damaging rice, groundnut, onion and other crops.

"We found a series of lines of rice standing when all others had died,"
said M. S. Swaminathan, a crop scientist and chair of the foundation that
bears his name, in a 27 June press conference.

The surviving rice plants are tall, have red kernels and low yields. They
are known by local names such as kundhali, kallurundai and soorakuvai.

Swaminathan says these native varieties can serve as an important source
of genetic material to help rehabilitate areas struck by similar coastal

Their seeds have been collected and are being multiplied so the
researchers can conduct trials in experimental plots, he told SciDev.Net.

The scientists plan to artificially create conditions where soils are
inundated with seawater and study the plants' survival.

In laboratories, the scientists will look at whether and how much the
plants are genetically distinct from other varieties that do not tolerate
salt, and whether they use different genes to help them survive in salty

Salt-tolerant varieties of rice have already been used to restore
agriculture to lands that were destroyed by the tsunami (see Tsunami-hit
farmers to grow salt-tolerant rice).

They are also the focus of research to help coastal farmers adapt to
climate change by providing them with rice plants that can cope with the
effects of rising sea levels.


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