UCLA geographer helps sequence rice genome

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Judith Carney

A Senegalese rice farmer holds African rice.

UCLA geographer Judith Carney is part of an international interdisciplinary team of researchers who have sequenced the complete genome of African rice (Oryza glaberrima).

The findings by researchers from the U.S., Europe, China and Benin were reported online Sunday in the scholarly journal Nature Genetics.

The information is expected to enhance scientists’ and agronomists’ understanding of African rice, one of only two species of rice (out of 22) that have been domesticated. African rice was introduced to the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade.

African rice was likely the first to arrive in the Americas, but it ultimately lost out to higher-yielding Asian rice (Oryza sativa), said Carney, a professor of geography at UCLA and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. But now African rice is at the forefront of current breeding efforts to develop resilient rice varieties that are better adapted to climate change than its more well-known Asian counterpart.

Carney is one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of rice and the author of “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas” (Harvard University Press, 2001), which details the debt Southern rice planters owe to enslaved Africans who pioneered rice cultivation in the New World. Carney is also the author of “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World” (UC Press, 2009), which details other African crops spread around the globe by the slave trade.

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