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Plant sciences

A lanky species of wild rice turns compact and docile in a jiffy.

Scientists have used genome sequencing and editing to develop a rapid-fire way to domesticate plants, allowing the quick transformation of wild rice into a bountiful crop.

The common form of domesticated rice (Oryza sativa) has two copies of its genome in most cells, but some of its wild relatives have four — a feature that has been associated with vigorous and hardy plants. To take advantage of such genomic richness, Jiayang Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues developed a way to make precise changes to the genome of a wild species of rice called Oryza alta. Such precision genome editing is a challenging task in many plants.

By sequencing the genomes of doens of wild rice lines, including some of O. alta, the team identified the O. alta version of 123 genes known to be important for agricultural traits, such as grain yield and quality, in cultivated rice. The authors then used CRISPR-based genome-editing techniques to improve six of those traits — a demonstration of a swift method to make wild rice more suitable for agriculture.

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