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Researcher Works to Create Drought-Resistant Crops

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POSTED: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 6:31am

UPDATED: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 12:33pm

Despite the recent rainfall totals from monsoon storms, the Southwest and much of the country is still battling the worst drought in decades.

As the drought worsens, one University of Arizona researcher is developing strains of rice that can grow in these hot, dry conditions.

It is a project that could have a global impact.

Dr. Paul Sanchez started his research back in 2005 and has already developed two promising strains of rice that can tolerate heat.

It is a pretty big discovery, since rice is a major food source for more than half of the world's population.

"When I first started this project I didn't know that rice would grow," Sanchez said.

However that is exactly what happened on his research plot.

Strains of rice are growing and multiplying in Arizona for the first time, despite the climate.

"We can really test whether the plant can really survive under extremely warm temperatures and a very limited amount of water," said Sanchez.

Meteorologist Jeff Beamish points out this type of research could not be more timely.

"The entire state at least is in a moderate drought right now, in fact Southern Arizona is under a severe drought. Of course nationally the drought, widespread," Beamish said. "So certainly what they're working on at the U of A is going to definitely help when we get into these weather patterns that do bring little rain and lots of heat."

Dr. Sanchez's plans do not stop with rice, he plans to one day expand his research to help keep the food supply up and prices down.

"Crops like corn, wheat and other cereals that are very useful for consumption," said Sanchez.

Dr. Sanchez says his first heat-tolerant strains should be released to farmers next year. However he warns this research can only continue as long as the funding does.  

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