US: LSU Scientist wins $450,000 grant to study rice drought tolerance

An LSU AgCenter rice geneticist has obtained a $450,000 federal grant to improve American rice varieties with tolerance to salt water and drought. The funding for the project directed by Prasanta Subudhi was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant was awarded from a total of $9 million by NIFA to 13 universities and the USDA nationwide.

Subudhi said the grant, spread over four years, will help advance his ongoing salt and drought tolerance project, which has been limited because of funding. “This will be a big help. It will make it possible to get a lot more done to accelerate development of resilient rice varieties in the near future.”

Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor for plant and soil programs, said the grant is significant because it was one of 20 nationwide and one of five made to universities in the South. “It’s an incredible accomplishment for Dr. Subudhi to get this award.”

Leonard said Subudhi’s work has implications beyond rice because the genes controlling drought and salt tolerance may have application in other crops such as corn and soybeans. “The opportunity to have a rice plant tolerant to various levels of salt would enhance yield of many of our varieties developed by the LSU AgCenter.”

Most of the rice varieties bred and grown in the southern rice growing states are highly susceptible to salinity. Subudhi has been conducting research to incorporate salt tolerance genes in rice varieties grown in south Louisiana using salt-tolerant varieties from Egypt, South Korea and India as donors. His work so far on that part of the project has been done with farmers’ checkoff funds allocated by the Louisiana Rice Research Board.

Subudhi said the NIFA funding will allow him to hire two doctoral students to work on the project. He said the funds also will allow gene sequencing of several drought and salt tolerant and susceptible varieties, which could lead to discovery of genes that provide salinity and drought tolerance.

He said upland rice varieties have drought tolerance characteristics. They are grown with little water, maturing as quickly as 100 days, compared to 120-130 days for rice now grown in Louisiana.

Subudhi said drought-tolerant rice will have the ability to withstand intermittent drought stress. He said the ultimate result of the project will be rice varieties that can tolerate low levels of salinity and occasional periods of dry soil.

Water shortages are becoming more of a problem, he said, and rice growing regions are dealing with salinity problems in irrigation water. “It will be a problem in the future all over the world.”

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said surface water in south Louisiana often becomes too salty for current rice varieties. Rice that could withstand periods of drying soil would help farmers in coastal parishes, he said.

“A producer may be able to get by without pumping that high-salinity water on it,” Linscombe said. “We are going to run into more and more issues with the lack of water resources.”

Linscombe said rice farming in Texas has declined sharply in recent years because of the lack of adequate water, and Subudhi’s work could eventually assist farmers in similar situations.

The awards were made under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Foundation Program priority area of plant breeding for agricultural production. The funded projects focus on classical breeding to include cultivar development, prebreeding and germplasm enhancement, related species introgression and novel approaches to phenotyping, among other areas.

Source: LSU Agcenter newsrelease - Bruce Schultz

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