Blog by Camilla Edwards 00423 May 2012
Within the food industry the potential of genetically modified crops is well known. And those who turn their noses up at gm food forget that all crops are genetically modified. The difference between a wild plant and one that is useful for the human diet is normally a lot of selective breeding ¬ the picking and combining over the years of mutations that result in bigger seeds and tastier fruit.
Tomoko Abe and her colleagues at the Riken Nishina Centre for Accelerator-Based Science in Saitama, Tokyo, are doing this with rice although Dr Abe’s methods are unconventional.
To mutate her crops she is putting them in a particle accelerator and bombarding them with heavy ions – large atoms that have been stripped down to their nuclei by the removal of their electrons. This produces between ten and 100 times as many mutations as the traditional method, and so increases the random chances of discovering useful new mutations.
Dr Abe’s hopes to use these mutations to create salt-tolerant rice which could be sowed in areas flooded by seawater, such as the farmland effected by the tsunami after the earthquake in Japan in March last year.
It turns out that about a third of the world’s paddy fields have salt problems, and salt-tolerant rice would increase the yields from them.
Traditionally it has been hard to get the consumer to embrace science but projects like this show so clearly the benefits of embracing food-based science and science-based food.
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