Thai Rice Farmers Preserve Genetic Diversity

BANGKOK, Jan. 5 (UPI) — Traditional farmers in Thailand are helping preserve a genetic diversity in rice not found in modern strains, scientists said.

The genetically diverse strains could be used to improve crops worldwide, said biologist Barbara Schaal of Washington University in St. Louis.

Schaal and her colleagues studied rice grown by the Karen people in the hills of Thailand.

Farmers in the low lands of Thailand grow modern high-yield rice genetically optimized to consistently produce larger crops. The rice seeds, purchased from a supplier, are genetically similar year to year.

The Karen, however, practice traditional agriculture and grow ancestral varieties of rice. Karen farmers exchange rice and choose seeds to plant for the upcoming year, which preserves a range of genetic diversity, Schaal said recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“My colleagues believe that those local varieties bred within a village are better than any one single variety could be,” Schaal said. “Under these circumstances, the farmers have it right.”

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

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