Abu Dhabi, UAE:  As the most important food crop on the planet, rice plays a critical role in global food security. Following a breakthrough in genome sequencing, NYU scientists are now hopeful that this vital crop can be made more resistant to drought and disease.

The research, partly supported by NYU Abu Dhabi’s Research Institute, was published recently in Genome Biology details the breakthrough, which has been to innovate a new ‘whole-genome’ approach that determines an organism’s complete DNA sequence.  In addition, through a collaboration with UK-based Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a third-generation sequencing technology has been developed, that allows long single molecules of DNA to be sequenced more quickly, improving on the completeness and efficiency of the process.

These developments are a significant step forward in the field.  Previously, researchers were only able to assemble the genome for basmati rice using ‘short-read’ sequencing. This ‘short-read’ approach, in which DNA is broken into tiny fragments and then reassembled, leads to missing sequences and important gaps in the data.

NYU’s researchers focused on two varieties. The first, Basmati 334 from Pakistan, is known to be drought-tolerant and resistant to rice-killing bacterial blight.  The second, Dom Sufid from Iran, is an aromatic long-grain rice that is one of the most expensive on the market.

 “This process significantly improves our understanding of the genetics of an organism,” said Lead Scientist and Silver Professor of Biology at New York University, and faculty investigator at NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology Michael Purugganan.  “For a variety like Basmati 334, which is highly resistant to drought and blight, it means we can identify the genes responsible and work with rice breeders and growers to strengthen these valuable traits. For such a critical global commodity, even a tiny improvement in yields can impact our ability to feed the world.”

In addition to Purugganan and postdoctoral scholar at NYU and the Genome Biology study’s lead author Jae Young Choi, the study authors are Zoe N. Lye and Simon C. Groen of NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology; Xiaoguang Dai, Priyesh Rughani, Eoghan D. Harrington, and Sissel Juul of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, and Sophie Zaaijer of the New York Genome Center. The work was supported by grants from the Zegar Family Foundation (A16-0051), National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program (IOS-1546218), Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF2550.06), and NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute.

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