According to blogger Herry Utomo, he and his colleague Ida Wenefrida and their team at Louisiana State University have been working on breeding a rice with a higher protein content – and a lower glycemic index – for many years.
In addition to the 750 million people suffering from malnutrition, there are more than 260 million rice eaters worldwide affected by diabetes. Making low glycemic index rice accessible to a large portion of these people from diverse cultures with different rice eating preferences is a really big challenge.
Low glycemic index, high protein rice entering the US market this year can perhaps be seen as the first step towards facing these major challenges. Frontire is sold under the trade names “Parish Rice” and “Cahokia Rice.” It is currently being grown on farms in Illinois and Louisiana.
How was this new breed bred?
The pursuit of perfect rice began with 7 years of research using traditional mutant breeding techniques. This gave us new genetics for two traits, low glycemic index and higher protein. Both these traits are rarely expressed in wild rice populations.
Maintaining high grain quality standards for US long grain rice is another important consideration while implementing the process.
To provide a solid genetic foundation, Cypress rice was selected as the parent line in mutant breeding. Cypress is renowned for its high milling quality with its ability to maintain high whole grain milling yields at lower harvest moisture in different environments. This provides an excellent source of genes for ideal grain quality consistency.
Mutation breeding has been studied by scientists for nearly 90 years in plants. It has been used to induce mutations associated with favorable traits in plants. Seeds are treated with low doses of X-rays, gamma rays or chemicals, and then subsequent generations are measured for the best quality.
We used the chemical ethyl methane sulfonate on Cypress plants to breed new cultivars. This chemical creates the conditions that allow mutations in plants to occur more quickly, which speeds up the propagation process. All traces of chemicals are removed, and no residue remains in or on the tree.
The first generations of mutant material exhibited a wide range of phenotypic variations. Some are sterile or underdeveloped. Others grow to undesirable heights and have low yields. After years of extensive selection and purification, various undesirable variants have been successfully eliminated.
The last successful variety was released as ‘Frontire’ in 2017. Phenotypically, Frontire is very similar to Cypress. It consistently performs well in rice growing environments as diverse as the Southern and Midwest United States and Puerto Rico. Our team used conventional mutant breeding to get these particular traits to manifest spontaneously. This new rice is not genetically modified (non-GMO).
Characterization of Protein ‘Frontire’. The increased protein content in ‘Frontire’ is important for the optimal functioning of the human body. More than 750 million people globally are malnourished due to a lack of protein. More than half of them are in rice-eating countries, where they eat rice three times a day.
Higher protein rice provides additional protein to help reduce protein deficiency. For developed countries, using rice with a higher protein content can reduce the consumption of red meats.
Low glycemic index. When we eat foods or drinks that are high in carbohydrates, our bodies break down carbs into glucose. When glucose enters the bloodstream, blood glucose (blood sugar) levels rise. High glycemic foods lead to a faster and more rapid rise in blood sugar.
‘Frontire’ low glycemic index alleviates these problems and is particularly helpful for diabetics who must monitor their insulin levels.
Taste, Cooking and Appearance. Consumer acceptance of any new food is critical. Without it, efforts will not achieve the intended goal. The cooking quality, grain chemistry, appearance, and flavor of low glycemic index rice are virtually identical to typical U.S. long-grain rice varieties such as Cypress and Cocodrie.
This low-glycemic, high-protein, long-grain rice can serve rice consumers in the US as well as many of the countries that are US rice export destinations including Mexico, Haiti, Japan, Canada and South Korea.