Metabolomics for rice improvement

We are using metabolomics to define what we mean by high quality in rice. Rice is by far the world’s most important food crop. Furthermore, the majority of the 2 billion extra people expected to arrive on this planet in the next 40 will also be rice eaters. We drastically need improved rice varieties which combine the features of high yield with high quality. To achieve this we first need to understand what the biochemical basis is of rice aroma and taste- the two key quality traits. We are using GCMS approaches to analyse the aroma profiles of a population of rice genotypes and combining this with human sensory analysis we aim to identify the most dominant odour compounds driving rice aroma and taste. Similarly, the presence of so-called ‘off flavours’ which are negative quality attributes, can also be found and identified. Whether such off flavours are already present in the unpolished grain or whether the appear during processing prior to sale can also be evaluated.

By combining detailed metabolomics approaches with advanced population genetics we shall identify the Qualitative Trait Loci (QTLs) – and eventually the genes -  which are associated with the biosynthesis of these volatile compounds. This information shall then be exploited in strategic, targeted breeding programmes aimed to combine quality traits with other desirable traits in the rice crop.