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IRRI: Rice genetic diversity and discovery

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Published on Sep 3, 2008

Hei Leung, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI; http://irri.org ), explains the Institute's program on Rice Genetic Diversity and Discovery: meeting the needs of future generations for rice genetic resources.

This program provides the foundation for applying rice genetic diversity in the implementation of IRRI's Strategic Plan ( http://irri.org/bringinghope/improvin... ). It focuses on three themes: characterization and creation of genetic diversity, and gene-function assignment; conservation and documentation of germplasm (seeds and the genetic material they contain); and enabling access to and use of genetic diversity and associated tools.

These activities aim to solve production problems by using genetic diversity and by providing a genetic research platform that enables efficient conservation and use of genetic diversity. Thus, the program, which represents the interface between understanding and applying genetic diversity, promotes a convergence of approaches and innovations. Although the program's activities are driven by the problems IRRI seeks to solve, the research also accommodates exploratory work to serve long-term needs.

In developing a public genetic research platform, a key achievement of the program has been the production of more than 150,000 high-quality single-nucleotide polymorphisms (known as SNPs, these are small variations, such as single-base mutations, in gene sequences) across 20 rice genotypes through the OryzaSNP project, a collaborative effort coordinated by the International Rice Functional Genomics Consortium (IRFGC; http://irfgc.irri.org ).

To analyze grain-quality and stress-tolerance traits, we are determining the relationship between genetic diversity and phenotype—the actual form the plant takes in the field. We have also improved the efficiency with which indica rice can be transformed (in transformation, a gene or genes from another variety or species are inserted into the genome of the target variety), which will facilitate the testing of gene functions in different rice varieties.

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