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Breeding Rice to Revolutionize the World
Rice is well-known for being a staple in Asia, however it is lesser known that it is also prevalent in Italy when concerning all of Europe. Rice originally came from China and found its way to Italy through Alexander the Great’s expedition through Asia. Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe, producing more than 50% of the continent’s rice, but that amount isn’t sizeable because they aren’t ranked in the top ten countries of rice production worldwide. They may not use much rice in their cuisine, but they have changed how rice is prepared to suit their own needs and wants. Rice in Italy diverged, whether intentional or unintentional, from rice in China due to the differences in environment, tastes, and culture. By knowing how & why they diverge and what the end product is, new divergences can be made to create new dishes and new variants of ingredients that have never been seen.
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Rice comes from the seed of Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrima. Oryza sativa is the rice we commonly know as Asian rice, it contains two major subspecies, long-grain indica rice(e.g. Basmati Rice and Jasmine Rice) and short-grain japonica rice(e.g. Arborio rice and Vialone Nano). Oryza glaberrima is commonly known as African rice, its production has declined because of the higher yielding Asian rice and does not have the same recognition as Asian rice. Asian rice was domesticated from Oryza rufipogon and African rice was domesticated from Oryza barthii. In comparison, African rice is hardy, nutty, filling, low-labour, and pest resistant. Rice is an annual crop and is normally grown in countries with low labor costs and high rainfall. Rice can be grown in many different loactions because of water-controlled terrace systems, however it cannot be grown varying environments. The fact that rice as we know it originated from all the way in Asia and parts of Africas, causes the long history of rice’s journey throughout the world to be that much more significant.
As the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production of 741 million tonnes in 2016(after sugarcane and maize), China and India produced 50% of it. Although rice is commonly known throughout the world, rice isn’t consumed that much outside of Asia. Asia produces and consumes approximately 90% of the worlds rice. Because of the amount of rice China consumes, they are only the 6th ranking country in terms of exports. Rice production in developing countries has many flaws and can easily be fixed to boost income. “A developing country (or a low and middle income country(LMIC), less developed country, less economically developed country (LEDC), or underdeveloped country) is a country with a less developed industrial base and a low Human Development Index(HDI) relative to other countries”(O’Sullivan, 461). The developing countries lose around $89 billion(USD) from post-harvest losses from the lack of proper storage, retail and poor transport. At the same time, rice is labor intensive and benefits from cheap labor costs, which can be easily found in developing countries. Although it is not certain how it would turn out, if this loss was fixed, many more people could be fed and the economy and development of those countries would most likely improve. One might say that the possibility still stands that the labor costs would outweigh the profits, but when people earn more, they spend more; thus encouraging the economic development of said countries. Many factors, true or false, may weigh in to the fact that this would not occur. For instance, the fact that developed countries do not produce a large amount of rice on a global scale and that rice may be a poor man’s food because of its lack of versatility, low price, and plain flavours; may lead one to believe that developed countries do not consume and produce rice for a reason. Italy is one of the outliers of the world, producing the most rice outside of Asia.
Of Italy’s most produced crops, rice resides in the top ten. This goes to show that rice is quite impactful to their country’s economy and culture. Italy exports approximately 50% of their rice generating an annual revenue of US $614.1 million of their US $40.719 billion total agriculture GDP. In 2011 they exported around 722.14(000t) out of a total production of 1490.15(000t). When considering an Italian’s diet, rice does not play that large a role. In 2011 rice was 1% of an Italian’s protein intake and 2% of their protein intake in one day. Compared to wheat, this amount is very underwhelming; wheat comprises of 30% and 33% of an Italian’s protein and calorie intake, respectively. In 2017/2018, the USDA estimated Italy’s milled rice production at 1.1 million metric tons(mmt) and their wheat production at 7.2 million metric tons. Although they consume around thirty times the amount of wheat compared to rice, they only produce seven times the amount.
Rice is a totally different story when considering China. Rice plays a large part of a Chinese diet comprising of 16% and 27% of their protein and calorie intake, respectively. However, in the northern region of China wheat is more dominant in their lifestyle. This is most likely due to how cold the north is versus the other regions of China. Wheat is much more cold resistant than rice. It can survive down to -10 °F to -28 °F(-23.3 °C to -33.33 °F) during the winter, versus rice’s 50°F to 55.4 °F(10°C to 13°C) during its early stages of development.
The threshold for the crops changes in stages:
Germination: 50°F to 59°F(10°C to 15°C)
Vegetative: 42.8°F to 53.6°F(6°C to 12°C)
Reproductive: 53.6°F to 62.6°F(12°C to 17°C)
Rice requires temperate climate for proper growth which both Italy and China possess. Italy has the Po River Valley & China has the Yangtze River Valley. These regions are most suitable for rice because they possess a temperate climate, a fresh water supply(rainfall or water from a river), and fertile riverine alluvial soil(of relating to a river and eroded/reshaped by water). Rice requires approximately four to five months of growth to reach maturity and thus be ready for harvest. Due to the nature of the crop, it can avoid the colder months in the winter. Italy and China primarily plants rice within April through May and harvests between September and October. They share similar weather during that time period, deviating by ~7.5°F with China having a hotter climate(75°F). These numbers were calculated by averaging out the minimum temperatures and maximum temperatures of a city within the region. The differences of average rainfall once again shows that China has a more suitable climate for rice, with Yangtze having 43 to 60 inches(1,100 to 1600 mm) per year and Po having 25 to 40 inches(650 to 1,000 mm) per year. As expected, China is better suited to produce rice, which clarifies why it produces and consumes so much more. As a result of the differences in climate, different characteristics are sought after and bred into the Italian rice strains.
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In Asia, rice is used as a food item that offers little flavour in order to bring out the flavours for the dish. For example, a curry’s flavour may be too strong, and would thus need to be diluted and cleansed with a plain item, rice. Although it is eaten with many different foods, it is not “paired” because they are only eaten together, not made together. However, Italian cuisine uses a lot of dairy product which is paired with their rice dishes. In one of their common dishes, risotto, rice is made with wine, butter, and cheese. It is made to be creamy and flavourful. Originally a Chinese crop and dish, Italians adapted it to suit their tastes as well as different grains of rice to better suit their needs in cooking. The prefer starchy, creamy, and rice with a bite to it. By gaining more knowledge on the adaptation process and the many different varieties of rice, it can be improved upon to better everyone’s way of life.
“The Puzzle of Italian Rice Origin and Evolution: Determining Genetic Divergence and Affinity of Rice Germplasm from Italy and Asia”, a peer reviewed academic article, was written by many authors who contributed equally: Xingxing Cai, Jing Fan, Zhuxi Jiang , Barbara Basso, Francesco Sala, Alberto Spada, Fabrizio Grassi, and Bao-Rong Lu. This article was written to benefit rice breeding programs, by targeting the appropriate germplasm from a specific region to transfer its genetic traits based on its evolution and genetic diversity. They researched and sampled 348 varieties of rice from Italy and Asian countries in order to identify the genetic divergence of cultivated and wild rice from different regions. As groups of rice, the data showed a close genetic relationship between the two. The uniqueness of Chinese rice varieties are due to the high number of private alleles found in their DNA. “Alleles are pairs or series of genes on a chromosome that determine the hereditary characteristics”(yourdictionary.com). Since it is a private allele, they show different qualities because of the differences in the rice’s DNA. Microsatellite or Simple Sequence Repeat(SSR) fingerprinting sets of rice in Italy and China show that they share a close relationship and suggest that Italian rice possibly originated from northern China. SSR fingerprinting essentially allows for the analysis of the composition of an organism, it reads the DNA or “code” of an organism in order to determine the genetic similarities. By reading the hereditary(able to pass down to the next generation) genetic similarities and differences, scientists are able to breed rice strains to better suit their wants. Whether it is in order to improve taste, texture, nutrition, growth efficiency, cost efficiency, weather resistance or more, this knowledge of reading DNA and breeding allows for many possibilities in the future of food and humanity. The purpose of this work is to benefit rice breeding programs, in order to target the appropriate germplasm from a specific region to transfer its genetic traits based on its evolution and genetic diversity. This supports my argument on how Italian rice has diverged from Chinese rice and the differences between the two genetically.
All in all, we can breed new strains of rice to better suit our wants. But that’s it? Not even close. There are so many possibilities that open up because of breakthroughs in genetical analysis and modification. Human thirst for new flavours and foods that align with their preferences can bring about great change in our way of life. Not just in a culinary sense. This can bring about economical, nutritional, agricultural, environmental, political, medical, and technological change to benefit humanity. Genetically improving rice, even in the slightest bit, can have a large impact on the entire world. Creating just a bit of efficiency, maybe making it one cent cheaper per pound, would allow for US $16.34 billion of worldwide saving. The grains can also be made more effective/nutritious which would in turn cause consumers to spend less on supplements where they are lacking and more on entertainment. Improving agriculturally by building resistances & allowing for growth in non-native regions would allow for more variety in fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Improving the environment by modifying how plants intake carbon dioxide and output oxygen. Impacting politics by being an important part of a government’s attention and resources. Even genetically modifying humans, not for major things yet, but problems that can and should be fixed such as hereditary diseases: heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer. As well as technological changes to support the advancing developing countries. One small change in one small part of people’s lives can skyrocket into advancements in many different aspects of humanity.
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