By Abdul Ghani Nasir
Pixs by Ahmad Shahiddan Saidi and courtesy of the Faculty of Science and Technology
BANGI, 23 Feb. 2012 – After seven years of research UKM’s scientists with the cooperation of MARDI’s research officers have successfully produced a variety of rice which not only can increase padi yield but also has properties with low gylcaemic index suitable for diabetics.
Its Plant Genetics and Biotechnology expert, from the Faculty of Science and Technology, Prof Dr. R. Wickneswari Ratnam assisted by some 14 other scientists from UKM, Malaysia Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) , Malaysia Nuclear Agency (MNA) and UM had been doing research on this since 2002 and have succeeded in producing the new padi variant G33 named UKMRC9 which can increase local red rice production.
Prof Wickneswari described it as a superior red rice developed through conventional breeding involving controlled cross-breeding between cultivar MR219 and wild rice Oryza rufipogon. It involved the transfer of genes of the wild type to the common paddy produced by MARDI now extensively cultivated in the country.
She was assisted by Dr K K Sabu, Dr. Lim Li Sze, Dr. Atiqur Bhuiyan, Dr. Abdul Rahim Harun, En. Parviz Fasahat, Puan Ngu Mee Siing, En. Abdullah M Zain, Puan Site Zuraini Abdul Rahman, Dr. Narimah Md Kairudin, Dr. Tilakavati Karupiah, Prof. Aminah Abdullah, Dr. Kharidah Muhammad, Chua Khun Aik and Tan Choon Heen in planning and carrying out the seven years of research.
In an interview with UKM News Portal, Prof Wickneswari said the cross-breeding was done manually. “We did not make any manipulation. We took pollen from the wild rice and pollinated it with the modern rice and used genetic markers to determine whether it was cross-bred or not.
“This was because there’s a possibility the cross-breeding did not materialise and we also wanted to know how much of the wild rice genes was transferred to the modern rice that we eat today,” she said.
Though the initial research was aimed at increasing yield so that enough rice could be produced in the country for its own consumption, the red rice was found to be suitable for diabetics.
Prof Wickneswari explained the agronomic features of UKMRC9 being of intermediate plant height, intermediate growth duration of 125 days, have the desired phenotypic appearance with a high grain yield of 5.5 tonnes per ha, blast disease resistance and slender in shape.
Its biochemical properties are it has an amylase content of 19-20 per cent, high ferric reducing ability of plasma, high total phenolic content making it a rich source of antioxidants.
The research received a government grant of RM840,000 for the first phase which took three years from 2002. It involved scientists from UPM, UM, MARDI with scientists from UKM as the lead researchers.
The research received a second government grant of RM1 million under the Ninth Malaysia Plan until 2010.
“We have to bear in mind around 2002 there was a shortage of rice and the price was high in the market. Thus the government launched a programme to ensure we have enough food supplies.”
The country then was only 60 per cent self sufficient in rice but the government wanted to increase it to 90 per cent and to be wholly self sufficient now.
“The main issue that we have to confront is how can we increase yield of rice through research. At that time research on rice was already carried out in China and the United States of America using the wild rice, Oryza rufipogon which originated from Malaysia.
“Other than that for us in Malaysia, we already have red and black rice called Huma Rice planted by farmers in Sarawak.
“For our red rice, it was planted on an experimental basis at the MARDI Station in Seberang Perai involving three of five varieties besides eight types of white rice which also gave high yields and can be planted in our rice fields.
“We asked people to cook and eat the red rice and found that the digestion a bit slow. The rice retain longer in the intestines so there will be no spike in the level of glucose,” she said.
Prof Wickneswari said they did not specifically intended to produce the red type rice but it happened by chance. Controlled pollination was done followed by backcross breeding.
“From about 260 lines that we got, five were red while the remainder white rice. The reddish colour must be from the wild rice but the husks look black and the rice reddish.
“We crossed once and then backcrossed twice with the modern rice in order to reduce negative traits from wild rice. Further the wild rice phenotypic appearance is not desirable” she added.
Touching on the wild rice, Oryza rufipogon, Prof Dr Wickneswari said it could be eaten and is a wild relative to the normal rice consumed daily. It was said to be the ancestor of our plate of rice Oryza sativa.
“Rice have nine types of ‘genome’ all having their own traits. The ones cultivated in the tropics are different from the type grown in temperate areas. In Africa the farmers use a variety derived from Oryza glaberrima.”
The final phase of the research project was the completion of all its documentation last November. It was now time to market it, she said.
“The commercialisation rights of the red rice have already been given to UKM Technology where an agreement has already been signed with a company specialising in producing seeds for testing,” said Prof Wickneswari.