There’s been some interest in a new rice variety that grows better in soils deficient in phosphorus. The BBC touted Wild rice gene gives yield boost and said that
A gene from wild Indian rice plants can significantly raise the yield of common varieties in nutrient-poor soils.
Moments later, however, the report informs readers that
The gene came from a variety called Kasalath, native to nutrient-poor soils of eastern India.
I guess we all have a ways to go in raising media awareness about the subtleties of genetic resources. A wild plant would hardly be a variety that has a name now would it?
IRRI’s press release and the scientists’ paper in Nature are both clear that the gene in question came from a “traditional rice variety”. And the BBC’s report — despite later referring to “wild varieties” — picked that up. But someone, probably some poor put-upon sub, decided they knew better.
What does it matter? Partly for reasons of conservation. That’s of no interest to the BBC, but IRRI proudly “conserves more than 114,000 different types of rice in the International Rice Genebank”. If they are there, does it matter whether they are still in farmers’ fields? At least one person, however, is using the mistaken characterisation to ask an odd (rhetorical?) question:
[T]his research supports claims that wild crop relatives hold an inventory of genes, the value of which is huge. How do we protect more effectively this rich resource?
I’ll leave others to answer that one, if they must.
As for the gene in question, it seems to promote root growth, which is what enables the plant to scavenge more nutrients from poor soils. I may well have more to say on that in a day or two.