IRRI Announces 2018 ‘Rice Olympics’ in Singapore

Scores of the world’s top rice scientists, industry experts, and market leaders are expected to gather for the “Rice Olympics” in Singapore on October 14-17, 2018. Officially known as the 5th International Rice Congress (IRC) 2018, the four-day event will be held at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre at the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said yesterday.

The IRC is sometimes referred to as the “Rice Olympics” because it is staged every four years (and, apparently, because of hundreds of participants). In 2014, the IRC was held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (BITEC) in Bangkok, Thailand.

IRC 2018’s theme revolves around “Transformative Science for Food and Nutrition Security,” an apparent emphasis on the importance of science to the world’s food and nutrition security.

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IRRI, one of the world’s premier rice research establishments, is located in Los Baños, Laguna, Rizal. The keynote speakers for IRC 2018 are Sara Menker, CEO of Gro Intelligence, United States; Prof. Patrick Webb of Tufts University, United States; Le Nguyet Minh, global agricultural advisor, Oxfam, United Kingdom; Sunny Verghese, CEO of Olam in China; and Prof. Zhang Qifa, Huazhong Agricultural University, China.

IRRI is co-organizing IRC2018 with AVA (Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore), with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as international partner, and supported by the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB), and SG Singapore (Passion Made Possible).

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Over last week, IRRI announced the completion of the “genome sequencing” of rice relatives. The agency cited what the success of the scientific process means to the world. “This breakthrough is expected to provide opportunities for breeders worldwide in developing better rice varieties that will respond to the changing needs of farmers and the consumers.”

IRRI noted that the article published by Nature Genetics titled “Genomes of 13 domesticated and wild rice relatives highlight genetic conservation, turnover and innovation across the genus Oryza” outlined the “discovery.” It put into details the generation of seven wild and two cultivated genomes, such as IR8 and N22.

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The rice agency said that rice scientists of IRRI developed the IR8, more popularly known as “miracle rice.” “IR8 was one of the rice varieties that ushered in the Green Revolution in Asia during the 1960s and prevented worldwide starvation and famine,” IRRI recalled. And with the world population virtually exploding more food production to help ensure global food security is needed.

“As the global population is projected to increase by almost three billion by 2050, rice breeders urgently need to develop new and sustainable rice varieties with higher yield, healthier grains and reduced environmental footprints. The completed sequencing of the seven wild rice varieties is a significant progress to drive further genome evolution and domestication,” Dr. Rod Wing, leader of the International Oryza Map Alignment Project (IOMAP), said.

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Wild varieties of rice have adapted to different bio-geographic ranges which makes them tolerant of many biotic and abiotic stresses, and, thus, “they continue to be an important reservoir for crop improvement. Strategies to harness such traits show clear promise to meet the future consumption demand,” Wing, a chair holder at IRRI, and professor at University of Arizona, United States, said. He is one of the lead scientists of the “Genome of 13…” study.

As could be expected, IRRI welcomed the breakthrough. “This opens the doors for rice breeders to harness genes from the wild relatives of rice, allowing us to improve crops with traits that are preferred by farmers and consumers. It will also bring us steps closer to our goal of ensuring global food and nutrition security through sustainable rice production,” said Ruaraidh Hamilton, IRRI lead scientist for genetic diversity and head of IRRI Genebank.

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More than 50 percent of the world’s present population of 7.6 billion (www.worldometer.info) rely on rice as staple food. IRRI noted the crop’s cultivation is facing challenges brought about by the threat of climate change and the onslaught of pests and diseases. The wild relatives of rice have the genetic traits giving crops to overcome most of the stresses.

IRRI said multiple institutes across the world made the scientific breakthrough from close collaborative research work possible.

Wing and Dr. Scott Jackson, a professor, GRE eminent scholar, and director of the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies, University of Georgia, initiated in 2003 a collaboration with Dr. Darshan Brar, an erstwhile plant breeder and head of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Division, in a visit to IRRI in Los Baños.

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IRRI is set on a mission “to improve livelihoods and nutrition, abolishing poverty, hunger and malnutrition among those who depend on rice-based food systems.” It was established in 1960.


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EDD K. Usman
EDD K. Usman: 1st winner of “Best Science Feature Story” of 2018 UP Science Journalism Award on February 17; winner in June 2014 for Print Media in Kabalikat Award Media Category of PCIEERD-DOST Science Journalism Award; alumnus of United States’ East-West Center 2008 Senior Journalists Seminar; participant of South Korea 2000 Executive Seminar for Information Technology Journalists; senior journalist at Manila Bulletin until April 15, 2016; stringer/contributor at present for Rappler, Newsbytes.ph, Claire Delfin Online Magazine, Malaya Business Insight, Agriculture Magazine (of Manila Bulletin), and U.S.-based Philippine News. Traveled on assignment abroad more than 30 times. Reports about SciTech, IT, ICT, Current Events, and many other subjects under Heaven.

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