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Last Update: 2018-07-30 Source: Research Headlines
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Protecting rice from climate change and invasive snails
EU-funded researchers are developing salt-tolerant rice to protect this important crop from the effects of climate change and the exotic apple snail pest.
© Hanoi Photography #161400207, source: fotolia.com 2018
Rice is grown in several Mediterranean countries in Europe, which provide around two thirds of rice consumed within the EU. However, most varieties are severely damaged by salinization, and river deltas where rice is grown in Europe are becoming saltier due to effects of climate change, such as rising temperatures, rising sea levels and water scarcity.
The EU-funded NEURICE project is developing salt-tolerant rice varieties for commercial use that will cope with these changes and prevent the spread of the apple snail. This exotic, invasive pest destroys rice seedlings and is detrimental to biodiversity in freshwater wetlands. The snails were accidentally introduced to the Ebro delta in Spain and have now colonised it.
Sowing rice seeds in dry soil and flooding the infested fields with seawater have proved to be effective ways of controlling the snails without using pesticides. However, these methods increase soil salinity, which has a negative impact on rice yield.
To address this, the four-year NEURICE project is using traditional breeding methods, crossing European with Asian rice lines. The final plant is mainly European but contains a small part of the Asiatic salt-tolerant genome. The new varieties are tested in laboratory and then field conditions to assess their productivity, stability and quality. The researchers are also developing a wireless sensor system to monitor salinity.
NEURICE brings together experts from the EU and beyond, in fields such as biotechnology, plant physiology, agriculture, cell biology and salinity monitoring. The project will communicate its results as widely as possible to those involved in paddy rice production, which is of major socio-cultural, economic and ecological importance for several European Mediterranean countries.