UACES Facebook Gene editing improves grain quality and reduces heat stress in rice
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Gene editing improves grain quality and reduces heat stress in rice

Aug. 9, 2023

By Hardin Young
Assistant Director of Research Communications
University Relations, University of Arkansas

Fast facts

  • Scientists reduce effects of heat stress in rice with gene editing
  • Paper on subject published in the Plant Journal
  • Research conducted in light of rising global temperatures

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — As global temperatures continue to rise, maintaining the quality and yield of crops adapted to lower temperatures will increasingly become a challenge.

Peter Gann in lab
GENE EDITS — Peter James Icalia Gann, a Fulbright Scholar in the Cell and Molecular Biology Program, has published work that may offer a remedy to both heat-induced and genetic chalkiness in rice. (U of A System photo)

One crop known to be affected by higher nighttime temperatures during the ripening phase is rice, which can exhibit a condition known as “chalkiness” due to heat stress.

Chalkiness is when the rice granule is less compact due to the decreased concentration of starch. This can result in lower milling yields, cooking quality and overall market value.

A new paper published in Plant Journal by researchers at the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, may offer a remedy to both heat-induced and genetic chalkiness. The paper, “Targeted mutagenesis of the vacuolar H+ translocating pyrophosphatase gene reduces grain chalkiness in rice,” details how the team was able to gene edit a strain of japonica rice to reduce chalkiness. The experiment station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The researchers specifically targeted a gene that encodes vacuolar H+ translocating pyrophosphatase (V-PPase), an enzyme known to play a role in increasing grain chalkiness. Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, the team was able to reduce the expression of V-PPase by editing a promoter element, which controls how much it is expressed.

The mutated rice lines resulted in a seven-to-15-fold decrease in chalkiness, depending on the strain of rice, with a consequent increase in grain weight. The results held up even under increased nighttime temperatures. Overall, the mutated lines were characterized by more compact packing of starch granules and formation of translucent (as opposed to chalky) rice grain, showing a clear improvement in rice quality.

The process was novel enough that the paper’s first author, Peter James Icalia Gann, a Fulbright Scholar in the Cell and Molecular Biology Program, and co-author, Vibha Srivastava, a professor in the department of crop, soil and environmental sciences, filed for a provisional patent. Srivastava has a joint appointment with the university and the Division of Agriculture.

“This work shows that not just the quality but yield of rice under heat stress could also be improved by editing a single gene,” Srivastava said. “I think that is powerful.”

“If we want to sustain life on our planet, it is really important to identify solutions to problems in our food systems that are coming with increasing average temperatures,” Gann said. “We were really excited to share our findings that utilized gene-editing in rice to improve grain quality that remains consistent — even under heat stress.”

Additional co-authors included Dominic Dharwadker, an honors student in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Arkansas, as well as Sajedeh Rezaei Cherati, Kari Vinzant, and Mariya Khodakovskaya with the department of biology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Gann and Dharwadker have previously been recognized for related work with awards from the Society for In Vitro Biology and American Society of Plant Biologists.

The technology is available for licensing by contacting Parker Cole, associate director of technology commercialization for the Division of Agriculture, at

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: Hardin Young
Assistant director of research communications
University Relations479-575-6850