Rice genetically engineered to resist heat waves can also produce up to 20% more grain

From Science Mag

By Erik Stokstad Apr. 21, 2020 , 1:10 PM

“This is exciting news,” says Maria Ermakova of Australian National University, who works on improving photosynthesis. The genetic modification worked in three kinds of plants—a mustard that is the most common plant model, tobacco, and rice, suggesting any crop plant could be helped. The work bucked conventional wisdom among photosynthesis scientists, and some plant biologists wonder exactly how the added gene produces the benefits. Still, Peter Nixon, a plant biochemist at Imperial College London, predicts the study will “attract considerable attention.”

When plants are exposed to light, a complex of proteins called photosystem II (PSII) energizes electrons that then help power photosynthesis. But heat or intense light can lead to damage in a key subunit, known as D1, halting PSII’s work until the plant makes and inserts a new one into the complex. Plants that make extra D1 should help speed those repairs. Chloroplasts, the organelles that host photosynthesis, have their own DNA, including a gene for D1, and most biologists assumed the protein had to be made there. But the chloroplast genome is much harder to tweak than genes in a plant cell’s nucleus.

A team led by plant molecular biologist Fang-Qing Guo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences bet that D1 made by a nuclear gene could work just as well—and be made more efficiently, as its synthesis in the cytoplasm instead of the chloroplast would be protected from the corrosive byproducts of photosynthetic reactions. Guo and colleagues tested the idea in the mustard Arabidopsis thaliana. They took its chloroplast gene for D1, coupled it to a stretch of DNA that turns on during heat stress, and moved it to the nucleus.

The team found that modified Arabidopsis seedlings could survive extreme heat in the lab—8.5 hours at 41°C—that killed most of the control plants. The same Arabidopsis gene also protected tobacco and rice. In all three species, photosynthesis and growth decreased less than in the surviving control plants. And in 2017, when Shanghai exceeded 36°C for 18 days, transgenic rice planted in test plots yielded 8% to 10% more grain than control plants, the team reports this week in Nature Plants.

The shock was what happened at normal temperatures. Engineered plants of all three species had more photosynthesis—tobacco’s rate increased by 48%—and grew more than control plants. In the field, the transgenic rice yielded up to 20% more grain. “It truly surprised us,” Guo says. “I felt that we have caught a big fish.”

Full article here.

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April 26, 2020 6:18 am

I predict the world at large, without any additional information, will demonstrate that the increase in yield is offset by a decrease in nutritional value determined through a super-double secret computer model.

Walt D.
Reply to  Spetzer86
April 26, 2020 8:06 am

Nutritional value doe not matter if we are going to waste it by using it to make ethanol.

Reply to  Walt D.
April 26, 2020 10:45 am

Well if sars-cov-2 should teach us anything , it’s that we’d better stop screwing around with genetics. Just because you can do something does not mean it’s a good idea to do it.

Reply to  Greg
April 26, 2020 11:59 am

Yes, we need to stop all progress everywhere. You have no idea when one of those new fangled ideas will cause the earth to fall of it’s axis and kill us all.

J Mac
Reply to  Greg
April 26, 2020 2:18 pm

Let’s examine another case of genetic engineering, using the same greg ‘logic’:
Well, if Golden Rice can teach us anything, it’s that we’d better stop screwing around with genetics. Just because we can do something to keep 670,000 children from dying each year and keep an additional 500,000 from going blind from Vitamin A deficiency does not mean it’s a good idea.

Clearly, technology can be used for good or evil. That doesn’t mean we ban the technology. We would never have made it past the ‘Clovis Point’ phase, with that kind of Luddite mindset.

Rich Davis
Reply to  J Mac
April 26, 2020 5:05 pm

Let’s not forget that we need to prevent those 670,000 useless eaters from surviving. Our Malthusian goals cannot be achieved (to eliminate 95% of the human race), if abominations like golden rice or this new 20% more productive Frankenrice are tolerated. Why don’t you engineer the rice to produce something that poisons them so that they can’t have children?

You’re trying to find a technical fix to support world population—increasing productivity—that has only worked so well for the past 60 years that there are more obese people than at any time in history. Can’t you see that population is exploding like locusts? Why, population is still growing at half it’s peak rate and population may not begin to decline for decades. If we increase food production by 20%, how will that help the situation? Do we really want to avert famines that could naturally cull the excess population?

It’s horrifying that more and more people are losing their connection to the earth and no longer burning dung and deforesting their environment to find cooking fuel. Some are even living for more than 35 years and making upwards of $2, $3, even $10 a day. That’s as much as $3660/year on a leap year. This must stop. Nobody needs to live on more than a dollar a day.

Inexplicably, these peasants are only having 2 children once they get wealthier and don’t need to have 6 so that two survive childhood. But we can’t depend on that.

What they need is a good steep carbon tax to create green jobs.

Reply to  Spetzer86
April 26, 2020 12:13 pm

I hope this new rice proves as promising as first news suggests. If it proves out, I’m for it!

We can expect the radical Greens to oppose it, as they opposed Golden Rice, which prevents the blinding and killing of children. Golden Rice works due to a genetic modification to produce beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. The Philippines is the first country to approve the growing of Golden Rice.
“The equivalent of 13 jumbo jets full of children crashes into the ground every day and kills them all, because of vitamin A deficiency!!! Golden Rice has the potential to prevent all those deaths. Yet, Golden Rice lines developed by national scientists in countries where vitamin A deficiency is endemic are not given a green light by local authorities to be grown by those who would benefit most from those varieties, i.e., the poor families to which those dying children belong. And why is that the case? Simply because authorities are not prepared to face controversy generated by ill-guided activists and because the deaths of poor children do not seem to cause as much controversy, if any.”

When the radical greens oppose anything, you can generally assume it is good for humanity and the environment – that is how wrong they have been about ~everything. They have opposed DDT, Golden Rice and fossil fuels, causing the deaths of hundreds of millions due to malaria, Vitamin A deficiency and fuel poverty. They have supported false global warming alarmism and green energy nonsense that has utterly failed due to intermittency and diffusivity, wasted trillions of dollars of scarce global resources, destabilized electrical grids, driven up energy costs and caused fuel poverty and increased winter mortality.

Regards, Allan

By Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., April 14, 2019


“…radical greens (really radical leftists) are the great killers of our time. Now the greens are blinding and killing babies by opposing golden rice…”

“In the 20th Century, socialists Stalin, Hitler and Mao caused the deaths of over 200 million people, mostly their own citizens. Lesser killers like Pol Pot and the many tin-pot dictators of South America and Africa killed and destroyed the lives of many more.

Modern Green Death probably started with the 1972-2002 effective ban of DDT, which caused global deaths from malaria to increase from about 1 million to almost two million per year. Most of these deaths were children under five in sub-Saharan Africa – just babies for Christ’s sake!”

“The Green movement is really a smokescreen for the old Marxists – and they are the great killers of our age.”

Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder and Past-President of Greenpeace, provided the answer decades ago. Moore observed that Eco-Extremism is the new “false-front” for economic Marxists, who were discredited after the fall of the Soviet Union circa 1990 and took over the Green movement to further their political objectives. This is described in Moore’s essay, “Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement” written in 1994 – note especially “The Rise of Eco-Extremism”, at

For radical greens, it was never about the environment – the environment was a smokescreen for their extreme-left totalitarian political objectives.

Just Jenn
April 26, 2020 6:25 am

Nothing in the article about the increased need for nutrients by the plants.

There WAS however a nice quote about “needing more experiments”. Seems botanists are still studying science!

I would be interested in the trade off of the added gene and hopefully it will appear in their findings/paper.

Reply to  Just Jenn
April 26, 2020 7:10 am

Will use more CO2 for sure.

Reply to  Scissor
April 26, 2020 10:25 am

> “Will use more CO2 for sure.”

“Oxygen Plus” not “CO2.”

Barry Cullen
Reply to  Just Jenn
April 27, 2020 8:35 am

“Needed more experiments” really means send money. Always room for more money!

April 26, 2020 6:37 am

funnyhow normal plants and weeds in aus manage to survive ground temps of over 40c for days
and high 30s for weeks and no rain and then revive amazingly with a brief shower of rain
no gm required
curious they admit theyve got no idea why the upposed 20% gain happened from tweaking a photosynth gene
well if it changed that vector what else got changed they dont know of?
like CRISPR supposed to be so perfect a insertion and effect
reality and admitted is they don really know the end results on other resukts fromthe intended gene tweak
people died because of unexpected results in the trialsof some of the Mab products
and they were supposedly screened and known etc etc

Reply to  ozspeaksup
April 26, 2020 7:13 am

A Mab vaccine is coming to a town near you. Caution is in order.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  ozspeaksup
April 26, 2020 7:33 am

people died because of unexpected results in the trialsof some of the Mab products
and they were supposedly screened and known etc etc

And tens-of-thousands of people are still dying because of unexpected results from their consumption of alcoholic beverages and they were all pre-warned of the deadly consequences.

April 26, 2020 6:53 am

…and the places that won’t do GMO…won’t be able to compete with the ones that do

Bro. Steve
April 26, 2020 7:06 am

As a used-to-be rice farm worker, articles like this are pretty cool to me. But there’s a big concern when too much of the rice producing world uses the same variety of rice. If some random fungus figures out how to attack that strain, you can wipe out the food supply for a gargantuan number of people. Genetic diversity is where we need to be heading.

Reply to  Bro. Steve
April 26, 2020 8:30 am

That happened to Banana’s about 50-60 years ago, and now just mainly one commercial type of banana is grown. In the past, the main variety of banana, the Gros Michel became susceptible to the Panama disease and had to be replaced by the Cavendish bananas which are all also all genetically identical. But they to are susceptible to lack of genetic diversity and are high risk sooner or later to succumbing to a disease that wipes them all out at once. Genetic diversity is always an insurance policy on ensuring we have alternatives that survive the ups and downs of plant disease.

Reply to  Earthling2
April 26, 2020 4:53 pm

Not sure that is right. In our supermarkets there are at least 3 varieties with Cavendish the cheapest at about $2.50 a kg. We have Lady Finger bananas, which have a better taste, growing at our place in South east Qld.

Reply to  cementafriend
April 26, 2020 7:46 pm

Yes, there are some other varieties throughout the world, (including commercial) but I was speaking more for in North America, (and maybe Europe?) which is pretty much exclusively Cavendish commercially except for the exotic fruit section that is also usually organic and very expensive that has some other varieties. Probably 99.99% here in NA. I actually find and prefer some of the other local varieties of SE Asia for example, which are much more flavorable especially if they are ripe as compared to ripe Cavendish. Especially picked off the tree if ripe enough to eat. They say the commercial banana plantations are some of the largest organisms on Earth, such as how some trees like Willows and Aspens and even mushrooms grow as an entity all connected together within their roots as a mycelium. I guess that is why the concern for disease since they are all cloned and exact replicas.

April 26, 2020 7:50 am

“The team found that modified Arabidopsis seedlings could survive extreme heat in the lab—8.5 hours at 41°C—that killed most of the control plants. The same Arabidopsis gene also protected tobacco and rice. In all three species, photosynthesis and growth decreased less than in the surviving control plants.”

How do those plants handle cooler weather?

We’re heading into the tail end of an interglacial and these fools are modifying food grains to work in weather apropos to the first quarter of the interglacial?

Reply to  ATheoK
April 26, 2020 8:02 am

Science progresses one funeral at a time!

Obviously we won’t get cold-resistant varieties until the cold wipes out all the hot-modified researchers!

April 26, 2020 8:17 am

Resistance is futile with the dooming because although they can’t show there’s more hurricanes with the plant food in the sky they’ll be slow moving and you can kiss goodbye to those improved crop yields-
Doomed I tell ya. We’re all doomed!

Right-Handed Shark
April 26, 2020 8:40 am

I’ve seen this movie.. it doesn’t end well.

April 26, 2020 8:57 am

I wonder what the down side is. Surely, evolutionary biology would have figured this out if there was no downside. Perhaps it increases the minimum CO2 levels required to sustain plant life which means that if it did evolve, it will de-evolve during ice ages.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
April 26, 2020 10:45 am


Surely evolutionary biology is a matter of pot luck, and a process of using what’s to hand, not what can be brought to bear?

Reply to  HotScot
April 26, 2020 5:10 pm


Pot luck really only matters in the short term because over the billions of years that photosynthesis has been around, nearly every genetic permutation you can think of has probably been tried more than once, and only what works best ultimately survives, which up until now are the C1, C2, C3, C4 and CM photosynthesis pathways, each of which survived because of an enhanced ability to adapt to specific conditions. Consider that the chain of permutations from first life to first photosynthesis occurred nearly instantaneously when compared to billions of years. Given the significant differences between the various photosynthesis pathways, nature has clearly tried things far more complex than just moving an existing gene to a new place.

My suggstion is that this permutation is simple enough that it’s probably already been tried by nature and apparently didn’t survive. Clearly, it has a benefit to agriculture, so why is this at odds with being for the benefit of the plant? It seems to me that more robust growth is an otherwise desirable trait. I suspect that it’s likely to have evolved in the past and just didn’t survive due to lower CO2 levels during ice ages. Now that CO2 levels are high again, it could potentially evolve again on its own, but it looks like man beat nature to it.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
April 26, 2020 5:55 pm

It appears that many genes have migrated from the mitochondria to the nucleus. A factor that favours this may be high mutation rates.
Thus, there are other nuclear functions that are necessary for the mitochondria to survive and function.

A great deal of the negative response to gene manipulations is, I think, due to transferring a ‘God function’ to the genetic code of life – ie, it is a substitute for more conventional religious beliefs.

Reply to  FranBC
April 26, 2020 7:17 pm

Yes, CRISPR is basically the ‘God Functionality’. if would only take a small tweak to the FOXP2 gene of a chimp to give it human like language capabilities.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  co2isnotevil
April 26, 2020 10:51 pm

In an overly simplified nutshell:

Both D1 and D2 are special pairs of proteins in the core of the Photosystem II complex. They work in tandem to oxidize water molecules — capturing electrons and protons with light energy and turning (splitting) water into free oxygen.

That’s where all the oxygen we breathe comes from. That incredibly complex macro/multiple protein makes oxygen-dependent life possible. Every green plant has it.

The protons are used to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP. The energized ATP is transported to another protein complex called RuBisCo (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase). RuBisCo catalyzes the conversion (fixation) of atmospheric CO2 into hydrocarbons.

That equally complex macro/multiple protein (the most abundant enzyme on earth) is the primary origin of almost* every carbon-based life form on Earth, including you and me and all the food we eat. *[Some autotrophic bacteria and archaea use a different carbon-fixation pathway].

All the oxygen and almost all the hydrocarbons come from water and CO2 via incredibly complex, yet abundant, protein complexes. Is that evidence of divine design or the accidental proclivities of primordial goo?

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
April 27, 2020 7:58 am

It’s evidence that given billions of years, evolutionary biology works based on nothing more than the behavior of atoms, especially carbon. No magical intervention is necessary. Life, like the Universe, was invitable.

Dodgy Geezer
April 26, 2020 9:23 am

“Rice genetically engineered……”

That’s enough! We mustn’t use it!! Frankenstein food….

April 26, 2020 9:38 am

In Logic of Scientific Discovery Karl Popper says that surprise is a good pointer towards truth.

April 26, 2020 11:13 am


Somehow, and due to my time in SEA, I got the impression that rice liked warm, humid climates. One of those countries was the largest exporter of rice before the stoopid “war”.

Would seem to me that a GMO or “naturally developed hybrid” rice variety that could grow in colder climates would add “diversity” and be more beneficial to mankind in the looming, new ice age than one that does well in a warmer growing season.

Gums sends…

April 26, 2020 11:17 am

I am surprised at all of the negative comments. This is a potentially great discovery that may make a huge difference to millions of people. It will take a long time, with many hurdles to be crossed, before it finds its way into practical application.

I suspect that Greenpeace is already gearing up to give it the Golden Rice treatment


Reply to  George
April 26, 2020 12:06 pm

There are a lot of people who are essentially chemophobes and are convinced that consuming anything nunnatural is going to kill them.
Add that to a belief that radiation, at any level is going to kill them.

April 26, 2020 11:58 am

GMO foods = the largest uncontrolled experiment evah. True.

Reply to  Eric
April 26, 2020 12:05 pm

Some people seem to believe that GMO crops are developed one day and shipped to farmers the next.

Reply to  Eric
April 26, 2020 1:16 pm

‘the largest uncontrolled experiment evah’ – World Trade wins that title, methinks:
Syphilis, smallpox (if you are an Aztec), Asian cholera, ash die-back, sudden oak death, blah blah.

Reply to  Chas
April 26, 2020 2:50 pm

Yeah. I had an Uncle with a wooden leg. He died of Dutch Elm disease.

Reply to  Chas
April 26, 2020 2:51 pm

Yeah, I had an Uncle with a wooden leg. He died of Dutch Elm disease.

Reply to  H.R.
April 26, 2020 2:54 pm

Another Uncle. Different leg. It was a plague, I tell ya!

J Mac
Reply to  H.R.
April 26, 2020 3:40 pm

So I says to my wife, with the wooden leg “Peg!” I says “Come here!”
But she wooden come…

J Mac
Reply to  Eric
April 26, 2020 3:42 pm

Natural Climate Change = The largest uncontrolled experiment evah. Reality.

April 26, 2020 3:15 pm

The existence of greenhouses shows that generally plants like it hot with lots of CO2.

April 27, 2020 1:27 pm

I am very interested to know this kind of plant modification is finding some success. I look forward to when the tactic proves amenable to a wider variety of food crops.

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