Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rice blast, a continued threat to global food security

MANILA, Philippines— "Rice blast plays a major reason for the loss of production of rice grain. That loss of rice production feeds into poverty and hunger issues," stated Director General Matthew Morell of the International Rice Research (IRRI). “The topic of rice blast fits with IRRI’s mission of securing rice supplies.” Morell made the comments in a pre-recorded welcome to participants of the 7th International Rice Blast Conference held in Manila, 9-13 October.

This sentiment was echoed in the keynote address of IRRI Director General Emeritus Robert Zeigler (right photo). “Anything that threatens rice production threatens the lives of the most fragile people in the world,” Zeigler said, before more than 200 scientists and researchers from 26 countries attending the conference. They came to learn of the latest developments in host-pathogen interactions, genomics, resistance breeding, and management practices to combat the insidious fungus.

“So, the work that we’re doing to assure stable and growing rice production is critical to the overall food security of the world,” said Zeigler. “That’s something we should never forget.”

He added that the situation is going to continue for the foreseeable future. “The demand for rice is going to increase in the coming decades—certainly during my lifetime as well as in the lifetimes of every person in this room,” Zeigler emphasized. “And that increase will further be threatened by rice blast unless we do something about it.”

Zeigler, one of the world’s leading plant pathologists, admitted that he once was captivated by this fungus pathogen early on as a graduate student. “It is very, very difficult to get our hands around rice blast despite the excellent efforts to completely manage the rice crop. This interesting and complex disease never ceases to surprise us.”

Zeigler urged the participants to pay attention to climate change. “We must work with our crop modelers to try to predict where climate might exacerbate future problems with the fungus. Changes in management practices will be critical in determining remedies for decades to come.”

The conference was an opportunity for experts from all
over the world to discuss scientific innovations in managing
one of the biggest threats to rice production and food security.
With the theme, New Insights into the Rice-Magnaporthe oryzae interactions for better management of rice blast, the 4-day conference also featured a keynote lecture by Dr. Jin-Long Qiu from the Institute of Microbiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He talked about Genome editing for crop improvement.

“It is amazing to see a community come together and reconnect right away because of a common passion,” said Dr. Hei Leung, head of IRRI’s Genetics and Biotechnology Division and conference chair. “This conference has been a great opportunity for each one of us to learn and respect each other’s achievements—I think that’s the driving force of the rice blast community. It’s functioning as a community of practice.”

The conference also featured the soft launch of the online resource, Rice diseases: their biology and selected management practices. Featured online, for now, are the Preface and Introduction (The Future Impact of Rice Diseases by Zeigler and Leung) and the full section on rice blast. The latest information on around 70 more rice diseases will be placed online as it becomes available from the technical editors.

Participants spent the last day of the conference visiting IRRI headquarters to meet with relevant rice scientists and learn about IRRI’s work on rice blast.

IRBC07 participants came from Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, France,
Guyana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Singapore,
Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, and Vietnam.
IRRI's work on disease and pest-resistance rice


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