Three billion people-nearly half of us--depend on rice for survival. What if you could adjust rice genetically so 1) it has a 50% greater yield, 2) using half the water, 3) needing far less fertilizer, 4) along with higher resilience to climate change? It would transform world agriculture.
All you need to do is switch rice from inefficient C3 photosynthesis to the kind of C4 photosynthesis employed by corn, sugarcane, and sorghum. That switch has been made in plants 60 independent times by evolution, so we have models for how to do it. In 02008 the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set in motion a consortium of 12 labs worldwide working on developing C4 rice.
One of the major leaders of the work is Professor Jane Langdale at Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences. Former Long Now speaker Charles C. Mann (who is writing about C4 rice) recommended her highly.
If C4 rice proves successful, it could lead to similar radical improvement for other inefficient crops such as wheat. Decades of focussed research could produce centuries in which ever less land provides ever more food, leaving ever more of the planet to nature.
Jane graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc in Applied Biology specializing in microbiology. She then went on to do a PhD in Human Genetics at the University of London and from there to a postdoc at Yale with Tim Nelson. Working in a building with Tim, Ian Sussex and Steve Dellaporta led to an almost inevitable interest in the molecular and genetic basis of plant development. Most of the early work focused on maize but now any plant species is considered depending on the biological question being asked. As these questions gain more of an evolutionary slant, the number of species being grown and studied is ever increasing.
Jane Langdale, Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, explains how we can not get food to where it is needed most and introduces this problem she intends to help fix with the C4 rice crop.