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06-December-2007 China View Online

BEIJING, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- Scientists in east China said that they had succeeded in copying some genes of the bamboo plant, a development that they said could lead to better food supplies for people.

Genetic material extracted last week from bamboo plants could delay the flowering and seeding phases of paddy rice, which could improve the crop yields and pest-resistance of a staple food for China's 1.3 billion people, the researchers said.

The experiment was the culmination of 10 years of research by Lin Xinchun, associate professor of Zhejiang Forestry College, and his colleagues.

The trigger for bamboo flowering, which occurs as part of the plant's natural life cycle every 60 to 120 years, has long confounded scientists.

"Even if a scientist starts studying bamboo the moment he is born, the chance is rare for him to observe bamboo flowering," said Lin.

Bamboo plants are the sole food for China's endangered giant pandas. After flowering, the bamboo dies. Unless there is another species of bamboo nearby that the pandas will eat, the animals face starvation.

Lin and his team have built up a database of DNA related to bamboo flowering, which they are trying to decode. This information could be used to cultivate new types of bamboo with predictable flowering periods, taking the uncertainty out of the pandas' food supply.

“If we achieve the goal, it would be a real blessing for our giant pandas," said Lin.

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