LOS BAÑOS, THE PHILIPPINES — The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has entered into an agreement with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to collaborate on transgenic research for functional diversity in rice, with the purpose of investigating strategies for resistance to diseases such as rice blast.

Magnaporthe oryzae, the fungus that causes rice blast, is a destructive pathogen affecting rice production. According to a 2016 U.S. study, approximately 30% of rice crop production losses globally are due to rice blast, a substantial deficit that is the equivalent of feeding about 60 million people. Aside from lost yield, these losses also have the effect of devastating smallholder farmer incomes, increasing rice prices, and reducing food security.

“While there is currently no outright cure for the disease, remarkable headway is being made by scientists all over the world in developing blast-resistant rice varieties that can mitigate and even suppress the pathogen’s infection of rice crops,” the IRRI said.

The restricted-use agreement, signed in April, is effective for four years and will allow the IRRI and CSIRO to share research and expertise, and allow each other usage of proprietary IP for use in the collaborative program. The agreement is non-exclusive, meaning either party is free to pursue the same or similar projects independently of each other or in collaboration with other parties.

Aside from disease resistance, other projects covered in the agreement include promoting higher stability and nutritional value in bran oil, increasing leaf oil production, and development of a rice protoplast system.

“IRRI is pleased to partner with CSIRO for the goals of accelerating impact and ensuring food security,” said Remy Bitoun, head of IRRI Tech Transfer. “CSIRO’s expertise in state-of-the-art gene technology can help us discover new approaches for safeguarding rice plants from pathogens, and can lead to faster and more efficient development of new rice varieties that will be resilient to diseases.”

Steve Swain, research director for Breakthrough Genetic Technologies, added, “Collaboration is at the core of scientific progress. With IRRI’s decades of knowledge and experience in rice research combined with CSIRO’s world leading plant oil engineering expertise, we have a strong foundation for pursuing groundbreaking advancements that can significantly improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture around the world.”

IRRI is a member of the CGIAR System and is bound by the CGIAR Principles on the Management of Intellectual Assets, and likewise by its own IP and Commercialization Policy.