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by Marvyn N. Benaning
10-October-2009 Manila Bulletin
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A rice variety that grows best when submerged has emerged as the best option for Luzon farmers whose fields are regularly flooded due to typhoons or heavy rains.

With global heating instigating unpredictably long periods of dry and wet months, the rice strain, dubbed as “snorkel” rice, offers the best defense for flooding, like what tropical storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng brought to the entire Luzon area.

Developed by scientists working at the Nagoya University of Japan, the variety grows “snorkels” when submerged and grows up to an incredible 25 cm a day.

Thus, the rice plant does not only tolerate submergence but even grows better when swamped with water.

A recent paper in the journal Nature written by Laurentius Voesenek stressed that scientists were pleasantly surprised to find out that the “snorkels” grown provide the entire plant with the nutrients and minerals that would otherwise be lost.

Voesenek said “snorkel” genes in flood-tolerant rice were discovered by Japanese scientists who then introduced the genes to sensitive high-yielding varieties.

“Snorkels” grow as hollow tubes from parts of the plant known as internodes, which protect them from getting swamped with water. In a sense, internodes provide the armor for the rice strain.

With the country expected to lose more than 500,000 metric tons (MT) of rice due to Ondoy and a fraction more due to Pepeng, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will have little alternative but to experiment on “snorkel” rice.

DA officials confide that research on the same type of rice has been going on at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), which is also doing work on saline-tolerant, drought-tolerant and submergence-tolerant rice varieties, including several traditional strains.

Filipino scientists may actually use biotechnology processes to introduce the same gene in traditional indigenous rice varieties to achieve the same effect and Nagoya University may provide generous assistance for the same purpose.

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