How We Could Prevent a Global Rice Shortage

Thanks to Brilliant for supporting this episode
of SciShow! To learn more, go to [♪ INTRO] More than half of the world’s population
depends on rice to survive. But as the population grows, that demand is
becoming harder to meet. Right now, rice yield just isn’t growing
as fast as the global headcount, and there’s only so much room for more farms. So unless we figure out an alternative, we
might run into a serious problem. Thankfully, this is something researchers
are already working on, and some of them have come up with a pretty
clever potential solution. To grow more rice, they’re trying to entirely
change the way the plant photosynthesizes. Normally, rice uses what’s called C3 photosynthesis. This method is used by the overwhelming majority
of photosynthetic life on Earth, and it first evolved at least 2.7 billion
years ago. There’s a lot to say about how this method
works, but there are only a few things you need to
know to understand rice. The first is that all the steps in C3 photosynthesis
take place in the same area. It all goes down in spongy tissues between
the leaves’ veins. The second thing is that this process is kicked
off by an enzyme called RuBisCO. RuBisCO uses water, carbon dioxide, and energy
to create an acid with 3 carbon molecules; hence “C3”. Then, that acid undergoes a bunch of other
reactions and ultimately becomes a sugar that feeds
the plant. C3 photosynthesis is hugely important. It’s responsible for the millions of tons
of rice we eat every year, along with most of our other food energy. And generally, it works pretty well. But it’s not perfect, especially when it
gets hot. Honestly, it’s mostly RuBisCO’s fault. As the temperature increases, RuBisCO doesn’t
always process carbon dioxide when it’s trying to make that three-carbon
acid. Instead, it can sometimes process oxygen. That wastes energy and water but doesn’t
actually create anything helpful for the plant. And it’s a problem especially relevant to
rice. As the climate warms, rice plants will likely
become less efficient, wasting all kinds of energy that could otherwise
be turned into food. It doesn’t have to be this way, though,
because C3 isn’t the only kind of photosynthesis. About 3% of terrestrial plant species, including
some crops like corn, use a method called C4. Kind of like C3, its get its name because
it starts off by creating an acid with 4 carbons. But the way it makes and processes that acid
is very different. For one, RuBisCO isn’t involved in creating
that molecule. A different enzyme is responsible for that;
one that can only process CO2. Secondly, once that acid is created, it doesn’t
stay in the leaf’s spongy tissue. Instead, it’s moved to a group of cells
called a bundle sheath. There, its broken back into CO2, RuBisCO takes
over, and everything proceeds as normal. This process may sound
like it would decrease efficiency, but it actually helps things flow more smoothly. It sticks RuBisCO in its own little corner
and only gives it carbon dioxide molecules. That means there’s no risk of the enzyme
going rogue and processing a bunch of oxygen. So the plant as a whole is much more efficient. Now, C4 does have some downsides, like, it’s
not as efficient in cooler temperatures. But in general, it seems like it would be great if we could
engineer at least some rice plants to use this method. That would just require, you know, dramatically
changing the way they use photosynthesis. Not a big deal or anything. Maybe, though, it’s not as impossible as
you might think. See, scientists have noticed that evolutionary
pressure was so strong that C4 and the structures that make it possible
evolved multiple times. More than 60, in fact. This suggests that going from C3 to C4 might
not be that much of an ordeal. Instead, researchers are hoping it may just
require some relatively subtle changes to the plant’s genetic code. So maybe, to convert a plant like rice to
a drought-tolerant, ultra-efficient C4 machine, you might just have to tweak a few parts of
its DNA. That’s what scientists are investigating
right now. By studying plants like corn, they’re trying
to identify the exact mutations responsible for C4, and then engineer those changes into plants
like rice. And they’re making some good progress. For example, some evidence has suggested that
the anatomy needed for C4 might just be the result of genes for veins
being expressed in the leaves as well as the roots. So now it’s just a matter of figuring out
how to make that happen in actual rice plants. This might sound like a whole lot of trouble
just to mess with how a crop works, but one team tackling this predicts that C4
rice would have 50% more efficient photosynthesis, and would use half as much water as normal
rice. It should even require less nitrogen. Some of the researchers involved in this work
estimate that this could boost global rice yield by 30%
to 50%! Which would be amazing. After all, rice production needs to see a 50% increase
by 2030 to keep up with population growth. So C4 rice could be the answer we need. Of course, even if C4 solves our rice problem, there
will be plenty of other challenges to tackle in 2030. And many of them will likely be studied using
artificial intelligence. AI can seem daunting, but there are great
ways to learn about it, like through Brilliant’s course on Artificial
Neural Networks. The course starts with the basics and eventually
gets you to more advanced techniques. Along the way, there are all sorts of helpful
diagrams, and almost 30 quizzes where you can test your
knowledge. Brilliant also has a bunch of other courses
about science, engineering, and math, and they’re working on new content all the
time. Much of it is also available offline through
their app. If you want to learn more, you can go to If you’re one of the first 200 people to
sign up at that URL, you’ll get 20% off an annual Premium subscription. [♪ OUTRO]

100 thoughts on “How We Could Prevent a Global Rice Shortage”

  1. Go to to try their Artificial Neural Networks course. The first 200 subscribers get 20% off an annual Premium subscription.

  2. Why don't we just cut food waste. Just look up how much food is WASTED every year. The estimates are 80kg PER PERSON in Asia every year. That solves the problem right there

  3. Going to thumb down every video this girl makes I absolutely can't stand her every other host is so amazing sounds like someone smart energetic that's filing you in and giving you advice ….this girl sounds like she's stoned depressed doesn't even want to be here

  4. While it i fully support this idea, those countries should PROBABLY start thinking about population control, to keep things from getting ugly if this doesnt work out.

  5. Thank goodness, this means that we'll still be able to have rice in 600 million years, when increasing solar luminosity and geologic changes cause CO2 levels to fall to the point that C3 photosynthesis won't be possible. My pilaf is safe for another few hundred million years!

    As long as we ignore the inevitable extinction events and all the the lethal UV radiation. Because the sun is a deadly lazer.

  6. Why wouldn't you make all the rice use C4?

    Because these biological engineers know that would kill the global supply… Because Global warming is a lie.

  7. How about we stop wasting some of that land we use growing crops we feed to live stock for a abysmal conversion efficiency of 3-5% (once it lands on a supermarket shelve), and use it to feed people directly? I'm not trained to do the math, but a 5% seems easily outdone.

  8. Instead of focusing on the 12 foods we've winnowed our diets down to, why not start growing the 30,000 other edible plants???
    We already have the plants we need for harder times – they just happen to be indigenous and native foods all too often, and that would require restoring ecologies and respecting Aboriginal and Indigenous practices which has been hard for the established scientific and governmental communities to do.

  9. Never mind
    We, Brazilians, still here, free for feed the world
    We can provide as many rice as needed and at the same time, keep our other crops thriving

  10. GMO the rice eating population to death, God Bless Monsanto, Archer Daniel Midlands and all the rest. Control the food you control the people.
    They are doing this to you too.
    Wait for the blight and everyone is hungry. No food.

  11. Stop eating rice. With our modern ways to make pasta and make it have any nutrition rice has… why are we still farming a marsh plant??

  12. You idiots, that is not the real problem why people are starving! The real problem is that most is wasted, people are starving while food rots in the fields because most cannot afford it. We have enough food to feed 14 million mouths but a lot is used to feed animals. I am not saying we all should go vegetarian but make meat more rare in our diet.

  13. While this is interesting, how likely is it to happen any time soon?

    In the meantime, economics is the main driver; if rice prices go up, then rice producers have stronger incentives to increase production, perhaps even help with the conversion to C4, or else consumers will be forced to buy less rice and more of other foodstuffs to make up the difference. What will they buy instead? Entrepreneurial minds want to know.

  14. This problem was solved forty years ago by a biochemist named Masanobu Fukuoka who grew rice without chemicals, compost, fertilizers, plowing and increased the soil fertility. His yields were the highest most nutritious and least costly. See: "The One Straw Revolution".

  15. Companies from first world countries should stop hiring death squads to kill farmers in Colombia* in order to steal their farms to mined gold, oil and gas
    *those companies could be doing the same in other countries

  16. Nah man im using the uraniam treatment. Its way better then the covers M O R E A R E A. I call it the uranium delicous. Buy now

  17. They got to use vertical farming to replenish the world rice supples! or scientist can mutate the rice genome so it could survive in harsher climates.

  18. She's either come far in reading or she's grown on me. Either way, I'm not thinking who's this emo chick speaking so weird

  19. This is the fall pf the philippines
    On the bright side this is also the fall of china
    But depressingly this is the fall of South Korea and japan

    No this is the fall of Asia. Our continent is dying

  20. Unfortunately a lot of the countries that need higher rice yields are anti-gmo. India, and southeast Asia for example. This project will be done in vain if these countries do not about-face on their anti-gmo beliefs.

  21. No one is ever going to bring up the population, huh? That's the problem. Not the climate, not the pollution. It's the amount of humans. Bring that down by taxation, or other laws and the former problems resolve themselves on their own.

  22. Saying "we" are at risk of running out of rice…. as if assuming it's a global staple food for all nations.
    That's kinda racist

  23. Or we could deal with climate change and end the exploitation of poor countries to enrich the few mega wealthy people. That might help the population and food situations.

  24. Oh no! The world's gonna run out of rice! What are we gonna do!?
    (Eat less rice)
    Let's further genetically modify rice because it's already nutritionally void.

  25. Maybe we could grow food in space, and let the rice fly closer to the sun, so it gets more sunlight and grows faster. Bezos could probably get it done.

  26. Or we could work on reducing overpopulation, the core cause of many of these problems,
    instead of sealing up holes and leaks as they pop up…

  27. There's only one scientific answer and that's create a world wide law that states that people need to stop reproducing for the sake of the planet. We are over populated and people keep breeding because they think that's what they're suppose to do and its destroying our planet. China and India should be fined for every child they bring in.

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