China consumes nearly a third of the world’s rice, which is more than what the country currently produces. As its demand for rice continues to increase, crop breeders must come up with new ways to improve grain yield — and genetic modification is undoubtedly the most promising route.
Yueqin Chen at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and co-workers1 have now developed genetically modified rice plants that could yield up to 25% more grains than normal rice plants.
The researchers initially studied OsmiR397, a microRNA that is highly expressed in rice seeds but not during development. They found that OsmiR397 downregulates the gene OsLAC, whose product increases the sensitivity of plants to to growth-promoting hormones called brassinosteroids. This led them to believe that the expression of OsmiR397 may affect grain yield.