Is this the rice super-gene?

PARIS, May 4, 2008 (AFP) – Researchers in China have pinpointed an elusive gene that plays a linchpin role in determining the harvest potential of rice, according to a study released on Sunday by the journal Nature Genetics. The productivity of a rice plant is determined by several traits — the number and size of its grains; the height of the plant; and its flowering time, which reflects its response to the prevailing climate.

Years of previous work in rice research have helped scientists close in on the plant’s Chromosome 7 for a gene that appears to affect all three characteristics — and this appears to be the magic sequence.

The gene was identified by a team led by Qifa Zhang of Huangzhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, in an arduous exploit of field research.

The team planted 30,000 rice plants in a bid to track down the gene.

This was winnowed down to 1,082 plants that had a tell-tale low yield, as they had fewer and smaller grains, were short and flowered earlier. The culprit was found to be the lack of a gene called Ghd7.

When Ghd7 was slotted into these lagging plants, the yield traits were transformed. The time taken to flowering doubled, and the plants became almost two-thirds taller.