A team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside and the International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines, have done a study unlocking the secret to just how rice seeds might be able to survive when grown under water.

The study, published in Nature Plants, identified a gene that controls the availability of sugar to a growing seed shoot—especially when under flooded conditions.

“The seed of rice is unusual among crops because it can germinate and grow into a young plant that can capture light energy even when the entire process occurs underwater,” says Julia Bailey-Serres, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of genetics at UC Riverside. “The gene identified—the AG1 gene—helps in this process by allowing energy reserves that are in the seed to be efficiently moved to the growing shoot. The seed planted underwater grows into a seedling that can escape a shallow flood.”

This process regulated by this new gene is opposite of that regulated by the SUB1A gene that was discovered previously to enable rice plants to survive complete submergence due to a seasonable flood. Bailey-Serres, who has worked extensively on the mechanism of submergence tolerance, commented, “Plants with SUB1A essentially hibernate when they are underwater; a situation where energy reserves are safeguarded.”

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