C-4 is a term more frequently associated with a common variety of the plastic explosive known as Composition C - valued for both its malleability and explosive power. The term may however in the not-too-distant future be more associated with immensely more productive rice varieties. A collaborative research initiative led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), seeks to create C4 rice – rice with a built-in fuel injector to better convert sunlight into grain, potentially resulting in up to 50% higher production while using less water and nutrients.
Plants are classified as “C3” and “C4” – referring to how they photosynthesize or convert light energy into sugar. C3 photosynthesis is inefficient at converting inputs to grain, as opposed to the C4 pathway, in which resources are processed more efficiently and converted into higher grain production. Rice has a C3 photosynthetic pathway. C4 rice research, currently in its early phases, hopes to develop a new type of rice with improved photosynthesis capacity.
“Other plants, such as maize, already have C4 photosynthesis,” says IRRI’s Dr. Paul Quick, coordinator of the C4 rice project; "We want to incorporate this natural energy booster into rice, which usually just has C3 photosynthesis, so that it can achieve much higher yields,” he added. “It’s important to incorporate C4 in rice because rice grows in places where other crops such as maize do not grow and because rice is the staple food of more than half the world, including many people who live in poverty.”
The C4 consortium is a group of multidisciplinary scientists from 17 research institutes worldwide using cutting edge science to discover the genes that will supercharge photosynthesis, boost food production and improve the lives of billions of poor people in the developing world.
The C4 rice project commenced in 2009, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and IRRI.The researchers have since identified crucial genes needed to assemble C4 photosynthesis in rice, defined the basic elements required for functional C4 photosynthesis, and successfully introduced 10 out of the 13 genes needed for C4 rice. In this second phase of the project, the team aims to produce C4 rice prototypes for testing. “We’re thrilled to be working with the world’s elite in photosynthesis research to uncover genetic secrets and understand biochemical processes to bring rice to a new yield frontier,” concludes Dr. Quick.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Government Department for International Development, and IRRI have put $14 million behind C4 rice over the next three years - the duration of the second phase. Other donors are the European Union and the CGIAR Canada Linkage Fund through a collaboration between IRRI and the University of Toronto.
Members of the C4 Rice Research Consortium, are Partner Institute for Computational Biology (China), University of Cambridge (UK), Oxford University (UK), Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf (Germany), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia), Washington State University (USA), University of Toronto (Canada), University of Sheffield (UK), Academia Sinica Taiwan (Taiwan), Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (USA), University of Minnesota - Minneapolis Campus (USA), Australian National University (Australia), James Cook University (Australia), University of Nottingham (UK), Cornell University (USA), and Kyung Hee University (South Korea).
More information on C4 Rice us available at the project webpage.