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New commercial EUropean RICE (Oryza sativa) harbouring salt tolerance alleles to protect the rice sector against climate change and apple snail (Pomacea insularum) invasion

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NEURICE (New commercial EUropean RICE (Oryza sativa) harbouring salt tolerance alleles to protect the rice sector against climate change and apple snail (Pomacea insularum) invasion)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Rice production in Europe, which currently accounts for two-thirds of the rice consumed in the continent, is being threatened by the effects of climate change, as is occurring with other crops. In the Mediterranean area, climate change is leading to an increase in temperatures and more frequent and severe periods of drought, which are harming water quality and river flows. These effects are increasing the salinity of the soil, which has a negative impact on crop productivity. Climate change is also causing the sea level to rise and further increasing salinity in the coastal areas, deltas and river mouths where rice is grown. As a result, it is threatening the very existence of the rice sector in the Mediterranean area.
The NEURICE project (New commercial European RICE) is aiming to obtain new varieties of salt-tolerant rice. Varieties of European rice will thereby be obtained which are suited to the new conditions, thus enabling rice growing to continue without losing productivity and maintaining the positive environmental, scenic and socio-economic impact of this activity.
In addition, in Catalonia, the Ebro Delta has been threatened for a number of years by an invasive species which has devastating effects on the rice harvest: the giant apple snail (Pomacea maculata). Its high reproductive capacity and the absence of natural predators means it has been impossible to halt its expansion within the Delta, causing increasing damage to crops. Flooding fields with seawater has been one of the few strategies which has managed to curb the presence of the giant apple snail, taking advantage of the fact that it does not tolerate high salinity levels. Unfortunately, the residual salinity following the treatment with seawater generates losses in the crops which, in the worst cases, can affect up to 30% of production.
Therefore, the NEURICE project not only provides a solution for adapting rice varieties to climate change, it will also enable us to combat the invasion of the apple snail in Europe.
During the first year of the project, different Spanish, French and Italian elite rice strains have been crossed with Asiatic salt-tolerant lines. Hundred strains of seeds selected for their tolerance to salinity will be evaluated this winter in hydroponic tests. The most successful strains will be tested in saline and non-saline fields during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns.
The NEURICE project has also begun to monitor the salinity of some saline fields in Spain, France and Italy in order to conduct trials of new salt tolerant varieties of rice being developed. For several months, the salinity of the water and the soil of the rice fields, the height of the water’s surface and the salinity of the water flowing in and out of fields will be monitored closely.
Next season, the new strains of rice are expected to be ready for planting, so that they can be evaluated in both saline and non-saline fields.
Furthermore, parallel genome and proteome studies are being performed over the most tolerant to salinity rice varieties from around the world in order to determine which mechanisms, genes and alleles allow those plants to grow in highly saline environments.
The NEURICE project will produce new salt-tolerant elite European rice varieties that will protect the rice sector from productivity loses due to salinity levels derived from the climate change and from treating fields with seawater to stop the apple snail infestation. The know-how of growing these new varieties will be fed into the EU end-users, which include the rice-industry sector and the rice-farming sector. In addition, management practices such as dry seeding and rational water use. These management practices will be improved through matching data form the field trials with different salt concentrations and different rice varieties, with data from the implementation of a developing remote salinity monitoring system.
The new salt tolerant elite European rice varieties will be obtained with a novel breeding strategy that includes molecular marker assisted breeding coupled with embryo rescue on immature seeds. This new improved salt tolerant varieties will allow maintaining the natural environment of the rice growing regions as well as increasing rice diversity for a higher adaptability to particular environments, including abiotic and biotic stresses tolerance to face a changing climate scenario.
Interestingly, the apple snail dispersion throughout Europe can be stopped or even eradicated thanks to the availability of these new salt tolerant European varieties, as seawater treatments of infested fields (that proved 100% efficacy) can be resumed, avoiding less effective and highly contaminant chemical strategies. Furthermore, the dry seeding studies are demonstrating that salt-tolerant varieties will be crucial to minimize apple snail effects even without seawater treatments, since the snail rests dormant during the initial stages of growth when rice is vulnerable.
Over a longer term, knowledge and tools created shall support productivity and stability of the agricultural sector in Europe and possible beyond. Along with developing new salt tolerant varieties, a wireless salinity monitoring sensor network will be developed by IRIS, which will alert the rice farmers and cooperatives of salinity increments so they can shift to grow the salt tolerant varieties developed in the project.
Identification of mild salt stress tolerant loci and accessions in japonica background through utilization of mapping approaches coupled with non-destructive phenotyping will permit advancing in rice salt tolerance knowledge and, as a consequence, will permit introducing other additive salt tolerance-related alleles to further increase the rice salt tolerance in future rice breeding programs.
Moreover, the NEURICE project will support the development of an innovative ecosystem in the agrifood sector in the EU and the development of the European Innovation Partnership on productive and sustainable agriculture (EIP-AGRI).
Rice varieties are tested in greenhouse conditions at Università degli Studi di Milano
IRTA technicians measuring soil salinity at Ebro Delta’s rice fields
Rice lines corssed in Universitat de Barcelona greenhouses
IRIS have installed sensors at rice fields to monitor its salinity and water level