Eske Willerslev receives Semper Ardens grant to do research on ancient rice genes

15. September 2018

DNRF head of center Eske Willerslev, from the Center for GeoGenetics at Copenhagen University and Cambridge University, has received a Semper Ardens grant from the Carlsberg Foundation for a project that will map genomes in ancient rice.

Professor and head of center Eske Willerslev, from the Center for GeoGenetics, a basic research center, has received a Semper Ardens grant from the Carlsberg Foundation for the research project “Uncovering the genetics of rice resilience to environmental stressors: An ancient genomics approach.” The project’s goal is to map genomes from ancient rice in order to make today’s rice more resilient.

Rice has been grown and eaten for thousands of years and is one of the most important food sources for large parts of the world. But due to diseases and extreme weather conditions, large parts of the harvest are lost year after year. By mapping genomes from ancient rice, researchers can identify useful genes for the benefit of today’s rice and, through determined plant breeding, make it more resilient to threats.

“By mapping genomes from genetically engineered rice through the last 10,000 years, it becomes possible to find genetic variations that have influenced the survival and reproduction of rice under extreme climate changes and epidemics – variations that are now lost in today’s rice sorts. These genetic variants can then be introduced into rice from today and, for instance, contribute to making them more resilient against changes in the environment. That will potentially be able to fight hunger and increase food safety globally,” Professor Willerslev explained to the Carlsberg Foundation.

The new research project takes its point of departure from the discovery that DNA from plants and animals can be extracted directly from old sediments – a discovery Willerslev made during his Ph.D. project.

In the research project, the researchers will drill cores of sediment from lakes in China near the areas where the breeding of rice began 10,000 years ago and use the cores to extract the DNA from the ancient rice. The grant includes a monetary award of 19 million DKK.

Read more about the research project at the Carlsberg Foundation here