Researchers led by Kenneth M. Olsen in Arts & Sciences used a new imaging technique to reveal a takeover strategy that has worked for weedy rice over and over again: roots that minimize below-ground contact with other plants.
We tend to assume that domestication is a one-way street and that, once domesticated, crop plants stay domesticated. A new study of rice shows, however, that different methods of farming change the evolutionary pressures on crop plants, and the plants easily “de-domesticate,” evolving to take advantage of these opportunities.
With the help of modern genetic technology and the resources of the International Rice GeneBank, which contains more than 112,000 different types of rice, evolutionary biologist Kenneth Olsen has been able to look back in time at the double domestication of rice (in Asia and in Africa) and its double “de-domestication” to form two weedy strains. Olsen predicts the introduction of pesticide-resistant rice will drive ever faster adaptation in weedy rice.
A University plant evolutionary biologist has received a two-year, $1.12 million grant from the National Science Foundation to perform genetic studies on red rice.
Photo by David Kilper / WUSTL PhotoKenneth Olsen, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, examines a cultivated rice plant in the Goldfarb Greenhouse.Red rice sounds like a New Orleans dish or a San Francisco treat. But it’s a weed, the biggest nuisance to American rice growers, who are the fourth largest exporters of rice in the world. And rice farmers hate the pest, which, if harvested along with domesticated rice, reduces marketability and contaminates seed stocks. Complicating matters is the fact that red rice and cultivated rice are exactly the same species, so an herbicide cannot be developed that seeks out only red rice. It would kill cultivated rice, too. But now a plant evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $1.12 million for two years to perform genetic studies on red rice to understand molecular differences between the two that someday could provide the basis for a plan to eradicate the weed. More…
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Deep research into sustainability, memory and other compelling topics becomes clearer with the debut of Hold That Thought, a new podcast series from Arts & Sciences. The Hold That Thought website debuted Oct. 1 as a way to make in-depth faculty research and overarching ideas more accessible to the general public.
Early rice growers unwittingly gave barnyard grass a big hand, helping to give root to a rice imitator that is now considered one of the world’s worst agricultural weeds. The new research from biologist Kenneth Olsen in Arts & Sciences was published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Archeobotanists argue that plant domestication involved much trial and error in many different geographic regions over a long period of time. A genetic technique that allows domesticated and wild strains of the same plant to be compared shows that domestication requires only simple genetic changes. Yet the findings don’t contradict the archeobotanical data.