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Genetics plays role in new rice varieties

NORWICH, England, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Less than a year after a tsunami inundated fields in Japan with salty water, scientists say they are close to introducing locally adapted, salt-tolerant rice.

Collaborating British and Japanese researchers have developed a new method for genetic marker-assisted breeding that will reduce the time necessary to isolate new traits such as salt tolerance, a release from the Norwich BioScience Institutes in Britain said Sunday.

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Scientists and breeders worldwide will be able to use the method, dubbed MutMap, to dramatically accelerate crop breeding, the release said.

"The beauty of the new method is its simplicity," study co-author Sophien Kamoun at the Norwich Research Park said.

"By working with cultivars favored by farmers and already adapted to local conditions, the MutMap method will enable plant scientists and breeders to develop new crop varieties in nearer a year rather than five to 10 years."

The new technique takes advantage of the speed at which gene sequencing can now be done.

"Until now, plant breeding has not been able to take advantage of the genomics revolution," lead author Ryohei Terauchi of Japan's Iwate Biotechnology Research Center said.

Important traits such as drought and salt tolerance, plant height and yield are often controlled by many genes, each having a subtle effect difficult to identify, researchers said.

"MutMap overcomes one of the greatest limitations, which has been the time it takes to identify genetic markers for desirable traits," Terauchi said.

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