UC Riverside

Julia Bailey-Serres

Julia Bailey-Serres

Creating Rice that Can Withstand Floods

Impacting the lives of more than three million people—what could be more rewarding for a researcher? Discoveries by UCR Professor of Genetics Julia Bailey-Serres and colleagues on the genomics of rice, a staple food of half the world’s population, have allowed the creation of flood-proof rice.

Though rice grows in wet paddies, it is intolerant of complete submergence for more than four days. As a result, flooding destroys up to four million tons of rice per year in Bangladesh and India alone, with crop losses affecting primarily the poorest farmers and forcing the import of rice to feed their people.

Bailey-Serres, who works in the Center for Plant Cell Biology and the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, and her research collaborators identified a cluster of related genes that controls the submergence tolerant trait, dubbed Sub1. Her expertise in flooding biology and gene regulation was key to enabling fellow researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to transfer the Sub1A gene into a popular high-yielding rice variety using precision breeding technology.

The new rice variety, dubbed Swarna-Sub1 and already prized for its pest- and disease-resistance and excellent grain quality, was released in 2009. It was adopted by farmers at an unprecedented rate and is now being used throughout flood-prone regions in southern Asia. In 2011, research by Bailey-Serres showed that the rice's ability to go dormant also makes it tolerant of drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognized Bailey-Serres’ contribution as lead recipient of the 2008 National Research Initiative Discovery Award. The award recognizes outstanding researchers who address key agricultural problems of national and international importance. Honored with her at the UC Riverside ceremony were two scientists also part of the international project, Dr. Pamela Ronald of UC Davis and Dr. David Mackill of IRRI in the Philippines.

For the scientists, the most extraordinary rewards came from actually visiting the fields, observing the robustness of the new rice strains and seeing the large grin and clear pride on a Bangladesh farmer’s face as he relates that this year his crop of Sub1 rice survived a 15-day flood.

Visit Professor Julia Bailey-Serres' website.

Read more about Swarna Sub-1.

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