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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
High yields in Chinese GM rice trials
Rice farmers China AP
Farmers harvest rice on a Chinese hillside
The first field trials in China of a new variety of genetically modified rice suggest the crop could offer significant benefits to farming and nutrition in the region, say an international group scientists.

The rice, which has been engineered to withstand damage from pests, has a higher yield than conventional rice, according to researchers from the Philippines and China who have developed and tested the new breed.

The genetically engineered commercial variety is designed to be resistant to certain insect pests by producing Bt, an insecticidal protein of soil bacteria.

To date, the only commercialised Bt crops have been cotton, maize and potato.

Staple diet

Rice has been produced in the Orient for thousands of years. It is a staple diet for 40% of the world's population.

Since 1976, much of the rice grown in Asia has been of hybrid varieties, which have higher yields than inbred types but are more vulnerable to certain pests and diseases.

Scientists have been developing new breeds of GM rice to try to solve the problem of pest damage, which can wipe out a crop.

This latest variety showed strong resistance against repeated infestations of two pests, yellow stem borer and leaffolder, while maintaining a high yield, according to the first field studies.

Opinion divided

The new rice technology may help farmers increase dwindling rice stockpiles in developing countries.

However, critics argue that while high-yield rice may benefit farmers on good soil, it does nothing to help the poorest farmers working in the worst conditions.

Scientists at Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China, and the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, carried out the work.

The research is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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