High yield gene-edited rice: Field trials begin in Japan

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A food research body [in Japan] has started growing genome-edited rice plants outdoors on a trial basis for the first time in Japan.

The trial by the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization is a step toward practical application of genome editing, a new technology that is expected to significantly increase the yield of rice plants. However, it is not yet clear whether Japan will classify these plants as genetically modified crops, and the country has yet to formulate rules, so it remains unknown whether such crops can be introduced smoothly.

In the editing process, two genes in the rice plant are stopped from functioning through the addition of other genes that serve as “molecular scissors.” By changing the plants’ hormonal balance, the number of husks in each ear of rice increases, as does the size of the rice grains themselves.

The process is part of a national strategy to further develop agriculture and expand exports. The final target is a 50 percent increase in the yield of crops.

In the latest experiment, external genes are added to the rice plants at the cultivation stage, but as a result of repeated cross-fertilization, by the time rice becomes food, none of the added genes remain. Researchers say this is no different from natural mutation.

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