The genome sequence of African rice - a completely different rice species than the familiar Asian variety - is reported in a paper published online this week in Nature Genetics. The genome may hold the key to developing rice that is more resistant to drought.
African rice, Oryza glaberrima, is better adapted to stressful conditions, such as drought and acidic soil, than the Asian species, Oryza sativa. To better understand the history of African rice domestication and how it adapted to harsh conditions, Rod Wing and colleagues sequenced the genome of the African rice species. Their results showed that O. glaberrima was domesticated from the wild species O. barthii about 3,000 years ago in West Africa. They also found that ancient farmers unknowingly selected for genes that affect the same rice traits in both Africa and Asia, such as reduced seed shattering and increased yield. Future work will identify the stress-resistant genes in African rice and how they can be used to breed heartier rice crops.