From Lab to Field: LSU’s Ambitious Project to Create Climate-Resilient Rice Variety

LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia, and the LSU AgCenter have recently been awarded a significant $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture sector. According to this news release from Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering, this grant will be used to fund their collaborative effort in designing a new variety of rice that can thrive in drought conditions. The need for such a development arises from the fact that rice is a crucial staple food for more than half of the global population, and as rice production continues to increase, so does the demand for water.

Rice cultivation, particularly the conventional season-long flood irrigation method, contributes to several environmental issues, including the depletion of underground water tables, increased salinity in groundwater, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Gartia emphasized that despite a 39% increase in land-use efficiency and reductions in water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil losses in U.S. rice production over the past four decades, there is still a need for more resource-efficient practices.

To address these concerns, the research team led by Professor Prasanta Subudhi from LSU’s AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences will focus on two main hypotheses. The first hypothesis suggests that developing new rice varieties with better adaptation to climate variations, coupled with innovative crop management practices, can enhance the sustainability and profitability of rice production systems. The second hypothesis states that implementing educational and outreach extension programs will facilitate the adoption of a climate-resilient rice management system by current and future generations of rice growers in the Southern U.S.

Professor Gartia’s role in the project involves studying the phenotype and molecular changes in rice under various stresses, such as salt, drought, water, and heat. By identifying the genes responsible for the rice plant’s survival under drought conditions, the team aims to create a variety of rice with those specific traits. This will enable rice cultivation even in arid regions, reducing the reliance on water resources.

Gartia plans to utilize innovative metabolomic (NMR, LC-MS) and imaging (Raman microscopy) technologies to examine the leaf metabolic profiling in stress-tolerant plants. His objective is to establish a correlation between metabolite levels and stress tolerance in different rice genotypes under various stress conditions. By observing dynamic fluctuations in metabolite levels in real-time using Raman mapping, Gartia hopes to gain valuable insights into the stress response of rice plants.

Additionally, the team will employ techniques such as mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI) and mass spectrometry coupled with liquid chromatography (LC-MS) to analyze lipidomic profile changes in the leaves due to environmental stressors. These comprehensive methods will aid in characterizing the metabolomic profiles of rice lines exposed to drought and salinity stresses.

The outcome of this project will have significant implications for the rice industry, which is one of the largest sectors in both the United States and Louisiana. In 2022 alone, the U.S. produced over 150 million pounds of rice, solidifying its position as the world’s fifth-largest rice exporter. Louisiana, with its favorable warm climate, abundant water, and water-retaining clay soils, stands as the nation’s third-largest rice-producing state, trailing behind Arkansas and California.

This collaborative effort between LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia and the LSU AgCenter has the potential to revolutionize rice production by creating a drought-resistant rice variety. By reducing the reliance on water resources and promoting more sustainable practices, this research aims to ensure a stable supply of rice for the ever-growing global population. In conclusion, the $10 million grant received by Professor Gartia and the LSU AgCenter will facilitate groundbreaking research in designing a new variety of rice that can withstand drought conditions. By combining innovative technologies and focusing on sustainability, this project has the potential to transform the rice industry, ensuring its resilience in the face of climate variability and environmental challenges.

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LSU AgCenter Received Grant for Sustainable Rice Research

It was recently announced via this news release from the LSU AgCenter, that one of their scientists has been awarded a $10 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture in order to improve the sustainability and profitability of rice farming. This will be accomplished through the LSU AgCenter scientists’s innovations in research that advance crops that are reportedly climate-resistant. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center School School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences received this $10 million grant as a part of a $70 million dollar investment from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture in order to establish robust, resilient, and climate-smart food and agricultural systems. As of the writing of this article, it is the largest grant for rice research that the LSU AgCenter has ever received.

William F. Tate IV, LSU President, commented on Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center’s awarded grant by saying, “agricultural innovation remains paramount to the future of Louisiana. Securing federal funding for projects like this empowers LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda and enables us to further leverage our agricultural expertise.”

The need for Louisiana rice farming to become more sustainable and profitable is apparent as the state’s rice production currently contributes $550 million to Louisiana’s economy, and this amount is regularly affected by extreme weather patterns resulting from climate change. These extreme weather patterns pose significant challenges to enhancing rice production productivity, so this project is extremely vital, as its outcomes aim to assist southern rice growers to “make the right decisions at the right time to reduce yield losses, land use, water and energy consumption.”

Prasanta Subudhi is the lead investigator of the project and a crop geneticist in the LSU School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences. Subudhi commented on how their project will affect the future of Louisiana rice production by saying, “we will equip the current and next generation of rice farmers, consultants and researchers with the necessary knowledge and skill set to embrace the new climate-smart agriculture technologies and production practices.”

Specifically, the project’s objectives are listed as aiming to “assess the socio-economic and environmental impacts of current crop management practices and identify barriers to adopting novel technologies and practices; develop novel genotypes with enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses; develop and optimize environmentally friendly crop management practices; and implement a robust extension program to disseminate the concepts and benefits of sustainable farming technology.”

Reportedly, the project will use all knowledge gained through rice research to increase both the speed and accuracy of the identification of rice genotypes that have desirable combinations of genes for improved adaptation to a changing climate. Matt Lee, the Interim Vice President of Agriculture and Dean of the College of Agriculture, said, “with this project, the AgCenter is showing its commitment to promoting and disseminating sustainable farming practices and technologies and to training of the next generation of researchers and extension workers.”

This grant comes after last year, when the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, Louisiana developed a new type of rice used to improve blood sugar levels. Additionally, a partnership with the Lafayette Parish Master Gardener Association, the Lafayette 4-H program, and the LSU AGCenter that incorporates gardens in schools saw students from five elementary schools — Alice Boucher, Charles Burke, Cathedral-Carmel, Green T. Lindon and Cpl. Michael Middlebrook — compete in the On Cuisine du Jardine, making complete nutritional meals using at least two ingredients grown in their school gardens. These two pieces of recent LSU AgCenter news coupled with this recent grant award, contribute to the Center’s impact on education, agriculture, and Louisiana as a whole.

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