Scientists find effective genes, fungi in wild rice to fight back coastal salinity

  • October 22, 2023

Approximately a quarter of Bangladesh’s total arable land is found in the saline-rich soils of the southern region. The persistent issue of high salinity in the soil, prevalent in the coastal areas with brackish water, has posed a significant risk to the nation’s food security. This has resulted in millions of farmers in southern Bangladesh struggling with low rice yields. After years of dedicated research, a group of scientists has achieved a significant milestone in addressing coastal soil salinity in southern Bangladesh. Their focus has been on a wild rice variety called Uridhan (Oryza coarctata). Their breakthrough promises to assist farmers in increasing rice production in the extensive salt flats of the region.

A group of researchers has identified significant genetic characteristics in the Uridhan wild rice, poised to aid rice breeders in developing new rice varieties and cultivation techniques. This breakthrough is expected to help southern farmers overcome the current challenges associated with high soil salinity in paddy fields.

With funding from the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust, the scientists have effectively integrated three genes from the wild rice into some of Bangladesh’s highly productive but salinity-sensitive modern rice varieties. In laboratory conditions, promising results have been achieved, demonstrating the newfound ability of these rice lines to withstand elevated levels of soil salinity.

The country’s agro-biotech regulatory authorities have recently granted approval for these transgenic rice lines to undergo greenhouse trials at the National Institute of Biotechnology (NIB) facility.

Prof. Zeba Islam Seraj, an expert in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Dhaka, has been leading this team of scientists working on Uridhan. Recently, she presented the research findings to an audience representing the scientific community at the University of Dhaka.

During a conversation with this correspondent at the event, Professor Zeba emphasized the high susceptibility of coastal agriculture in Bangladesh to the impacts of climate change and natural calamities. She pointed out the escalating severity of disasters such as rising sea levels, tidal surges, soil salinity, saltwater intrusion, and cyclones in the coastal regions. As a result, rice cultivation in these areas is facing growing challenges due to heightened soil salinity.

To address this mounting salinity issue, Professor Zeba highlighted the importance of adopting various strategies. These include enhancing water management, utilizing halophytic species in agriculture, and employing breeding methods to develop crops that are tolerant to salt.