When a typical Filipino starts on a meal, the first thing he takes from the table is not salad or any other appetizer, but rice.
Rice, which was domesticated in the Indian subcontinent about 6,000 years ago, has become an indelible part of the diet and culture as well.
Today, Filipinos are considered as one of the world's biggest consumers of rice on a per capita basis.
However, one of the most serious challenges that Philippine agriculture is its inability to provide enough grain to feed more than 88 million Filipinos and biotechnologists are in the thick of the battle to increase yield and develop pest-free and high-yielding strains that use less inputs.
Estimates vary but the official figure is that the 1.8 million hectares of rice farms could only provide 90 percent of the country's rice requirement.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has set a rice sufficiency target of 98 percent by 2010 and 100 percent sufficiency by 2013.
Soaring rice prices worldwide due to demand have made the grain a precious commodity. Only 7 percent of the total global production of the grain is sold in the world market.
China, the world's most populous country with 1.36 billion people, keeps its rice production figure a state secret and its huge purchases early this year had been fingered as the reason why the price went sky high.
With the high demand for rice, the world's biggest exporters, Thailand and Vietnam, have dominated the sellers' market and the Philippines eventually became their most avid customer.
However, there is another problem besetting rice, and this is the presence of what has been dubbed as a "varietal impostor." Fakes abound in the real world in defiance of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) but bogus rice is not an everyday occurrence.
The Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have found the solution to fraudulent identity of commercially released hybrid rice through the establishment of genotype identity analysis, assisted by Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) and Sequence Tagged Sites (STS) molecular markers or microsatellites.
A microsatellite is polymorphic or an organism having more than one adult form (carrying different functions as to the castes of social ants).
PhilRice is specifically conducting the study on the Mestizo rice variety, since it is one of the most popular varieties of commercial rice. Through the identification of the variety's gene traits, the application of the SSR markers will allow the identification of the authentic variety from the varietal impostor.
The application of the SSR and STS markers is the more convenient way of testing the hybrid lines than the use of typical "grow-out" test.
This way, farmers are protected from fraud in purchasing hybrid rice varieties for planting.
Bacterial blight is one of the most fatal pests that can hobble rice production. It is caused by Xanthomonas oryzae pv oryzae. It is a vascular disease that results in a systematic infection that produces tannish-grey to white lesions among the veins. Symptoms are observed at the tillering stage, disease incidence progresses with plant growth, peaking at the flowering stage. Infection at seedling stage may result to wilt or crop failure. The disease causes losses that range from 20 percent to 50 percent of production loss in the rice fields.
DA-BPO and PhilRice came up with the technology to improve and enhance the parental lines of the Mestizo rice variety by incorporating Blight Resistant properties, through Background Marker Selection (MAB) using genomewide SSRs.
This can be considered as a major breakthrough in the country's current campaign to increase rice supply and thus achieve modest gains in the battle to achieve food sufficiency and food sovereignty in the long run. (biolife news service)