Arkansas State turns up the heat on rice crops

El Dorado News-Times - - News -

JONES­BORO (AP) — A group of Arkansas State Univer­sity ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents are study­ing ef­fects of heat on rice crops in a three­u­ni­ver­sity project aimed at dis­cov­er­ing plants that can with­stand global warm­ing.

Sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska at Lin­coln and Kansas State Univer­sity are also look­ing at cre­at­ing a heat-re­silient va­ri­ety of wheat. The five-year, $6 mil­lion project is funded by the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion through its Es­tab­lished Pro­gram to Stim­u­late Com­pet­i­tive Re­search pro­gram.

Argelia Lorence, di­rec­tor of ASU's phe­nomics fa­cil­ity and a Vaughn En­dowed Pro­fes­sor­ship of metabolic en­gi­neer­ing, is head­ing the ASU study with Wency Larazo, a rice agron­o­mist.

She said cli­mate data has shown that dur­ing the past 40 years, the av­er­age night time tem­per­a­ture in ar­eas that pro­duce rice have in­creased by 5 de­grees. That's in­dica­tive, she said, of con­tin­ued ris­ing tem­per­a­tures that are putting stress on im­por­tant crops.

"This isn't a po­lit­i­cal is­sue," she said to The Jones­boro Sun. "It's a food is­sue."

Lorence and seven ASU stu­dents will con­struct six green­house tents at a newly opened Univer­sity of Arkansas rice re­search cen­ter at Harrisburg in March. The team will plant 400 var­i­ous breeds of rice in each of the tents and raise tem­per­a­tures in three of the tents to see how re­silient they are. Each plant is pho­tographed daily to see how the in­creased cli­mate may af­fect it.

The plants will also be taken back to the Arkansas Bio­sciences In­sti­tute on the ASU cam­pus in Jones­boro where they will be fur­ther tested for size, color, the amount of chloro­phyll they con­tain and their leaf tem­per­a­tures.

When Lorence and her team find the most re­silient brands of rice, they will present their find­ings to rice breed­ers who can then at­tempt to cross­breed brands for a more heat-re­silient form of rice seed.

Lorence, who has been at ASU for 14 years, was raised in Mex­ico City, Mex­ico. She earned her doc­tor­ate in biotech­nol­ogy at the Univer­si­dad Na­cional Au­tonoma de Mex­ico in Cuer­navaca, Mex­ico.

She worked on projects in Mex­ico un­til a change in the coun­try's gov­ern­ment took science fund­ing de­ci­sions from the Na­tional Coun­cil on Science and Tech­nol­ogy and gave it to politi­cians in­stead.

"In­stead of the (coun­cil) de­cid­ing what was best, they let the politi­cians de­cide," she said. "It was about who you knew. I knew no politi­cians."

She de­cided to move to the United States and be­gan work­ing at labs at Texas A&M and Vir­ginia Tech.

While at Vir­ginia Tech,

she was part of a team that pub­lished the dis­cov­ery of a new biosyn­thetic path­way for vi­ta­min C in plants.

She sent 25 ap­pli­cants to re­search in­sti­tutes across the coun­try and was of­fered three jobs, in­clud­ing one at ASU.

The Arkansas Bio­sciences In­sti­tute at­tracted Lorence, and she ac­cepted the po­si­tion. In ad­di­tion to the rice study, she is also lead­ing a team in un­der­stand­ing how vi­ta­min C de­lays ag­ing and con­trib­utes to plant tol­er­ance to stresses.

Lorence's rice-study­ing team is an in­ter­na­tional group of stu­dents. Along with Larazo, who is from the Philip­pines, the team is made up of doc­toral stu­dents Kharla Mendez and Cher­ryl Quinones, both of the Philip­pines; mas­ter's stu­dent Shan­non Cun­ning­ham of the Ba­hamas; post-doc­tor­ate stu­dent Ka­rina Me­d­i­naJimenez of Mex­ico; and un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent Lil­ian Aniemena of Nige­ria.

She is also work­ing with Arlene Ad­vien­toBorbe, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture's Delta Wa­ter Man­age­ment Unit.

A team at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska at Lin­coln that is con­duct­ing sim­i­lar green­house tests with wheat is led by Harka­mal Walia, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of agron­omy and hor­ti­cul­ture.

"We are ex­cited about this project," Lorence said. "The amount of land for crops is de­creas­ing, but there are more peo­ple. We need to eat. The only way to do this is to make the crops more pro­duc­tive. I love com­ing to work," she said. "This is my pas­sion. We're work­ing as hard as we can."

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