Did you know that the rice on your plate contributed to global warming when it was grown? During photosynthesis, rice plants produce sugars that seep from their roots into the surrounding water. There, bacteria eat the sugars and then emit massive amounts of methane – a potent global warming gas. Christer Jansson is Director of Plant Sciences at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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Jansson: “And that is a significant, maybe major source of methane. A hundred million tons annually that is being emitted that way.”

And because methane-producing bacteria thrive in warmer temperatures, he says, the problem is expected to get worse as the planet warms. So Jansson and other researchers developed a genetically modified rice plant that sends these sugars to the plant’s leaves and grains above-ground instead of to the roots – depriving the bacteria in the water of their food source.

Rice photo
Can rice – the staple for half the world’s population – be grown with virtually no greenhouse gas emissions?

Jansson: “So instead, we get more food, but less methane.”

Thus production of this new rice should emit far less methane pollution than traditional rice. Scientists must now evaluate the taste, nutrition and safety, so Jansson estimates the new rice is about ten years from being commercially available.

Jansson: “So this could be a critical component in fighting climate change.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Image courtesy of Jiří 伊日 on Flickr.

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Topics: Climate Science, Food & Agriculture