To clear up confusion about the origin of the aroma gene found in Thai Jasmine rice, scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) analyzed 318 varieties of aromatic rice from the International Rice Genebank, including 16 types of Thai Jasmine rice.
“Ninety five percent of the aromatic rice analyzed shared the same version of the major gene for fragrance found in Thai Jasmine rice,” says Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, grain quality researcher at IRRI. “Our research also suggests that the aroma gene did not originate in Thai Jasmine rice.”
“Traditional varieties of aromatic rice from 17 Asian countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam – have the same version of the gene that contributes to their aromatic qualities,” she added.
The aroma gene has been prized by farmers everywhere for thousands of years and it became widely adopted in different rice varieties throughout the ancient rice-growing world long before modern national boundaries were established.
Not surprisingly, for a trait valued as highly as aroma, rice breeders in many countries around the world try to develop new improved varieties of aromatic rice, such as Jazzman developed by Louisiana State University (LSU).
“Any organization, including LSU, can legally obtain seed of aromatic rice for breeding purposes from many different sources, including the International Rice Genebank,” says Dr. Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, head of the International Rice Genebank.
“However, to obtain material from the International Rice Genebank they must accept the terms and conditions set out for such sharing under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,” he added.
This Treaty, agreed upon and adopted by most countries, promotes the responsible sharing of genetic diversity: it allows breeders access to the material they need, under carefully defined conditions that ensure they don’t misappropriate the material and that the benefits arising from its use are shared fairly and equitably.
“The unique aroma of Thai Jasmine rice is a result of a combination of the presence of the version of the major gene for fragrance, other minor genes, and the climatic and soil conditions in Thailand where Thai Jasmine rice is grown,” says Dr. Sackville Hamilton.
“Duplicating exactly this combination of genetic characteristics and growing conditions would be difficult, assuring a place for Thailand’s distinctive Jasmine rice in the market,” he added.