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The Thailand Center of Excellence on Rice Precision Breeding for Food Security, Quality, and Nutrition

A collaboration between the National Center for Genetic Engineering (BIOTEC) and Rice Science Center, Kasetsart University, Thailand

Rice could be crucial in helping to provide nutrition when feeding our species in the future. As the world’s population is projected to increase exponentially to nearly 10 billion people in the year 2050, the average age of people in Thailand will be 30 years older compared to 1975. It is anticipated that there will be more incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease (CVD) in 2050. Therefore, the world is going to need 56% more caloric foods to feed the future population in 2050. Unfortunately, in the next 30 years, rapid climate change will limit productivity and acreage of rice production, particularly, in net exporting countries like Thailand, India, Vietnam, and Myanmar. It is more imminent now, the world may face real food shortage and malnutrition simultaneously if eating habits do not drastically change. The grand challenge for Thailand is to add more healthy functions into caloric rice to help slow down the NCDs for the next 30 years.

How is Thailand preparing to face such great challenges?

Thailand is one of the origins of rice genetic diversity.  Rich in genetic diversity, 89 local landraces have been cultivated in lowland rain-fed areas in Thailand for food security.  More than 50 new rice varieties were developed by the Thailand Rice Department (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative) using mainly conventional breeding methods.  However, conventional breeding is less efficient and time consuming compared to tailor-made new varieties which are eco-friendly and combat malnutrition for well-being.

Precision rice breeding designs multiple genetic crossings and efficiently pinpoints desirable combinations of genotypes utilising high throughout genetic markers linking functional genes or quantitative trait loci (QTL) such as resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, cooking and nutritional qualities, and food industrial needs. Such a non-GM technology promises to deliver new varieties in a short turnaround time.

Research Scope

  • Functional Genomics. Finding relationship between structural and functional genomics by generating whole genome lesions using insertional, radiation, and chemical mutagenesis.
  • Gene Discovery and Map-based Cloning. Discovering gene functions by resequencing, QTLseq, Genome-wide association mapping, Positional cloning. This topic involves the identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) and genes underlying 16 target traits associated with resistance to diseases and pests such as Blast, Bacterial blight, Dirty panicle, and Brown planthopper, as well as tolerance to environmental stresses such as heat, radiation, drought, flooding, Fe toxicity, and salinity.
  • Genome Browsers. This includes the development and curation of a public resource for the rice genomic and bioinformatics software and platform called RiceGeneThresher. The genome browser provides full access to an integrated multiplatform relational database of heterogeneous rice genome resources for decision-making and candidate gene selection, as well as tools from microarray analysis.
  • Molecular Breeding. This involves the implementation of marker-assisted selection (MAS) and genomic selection for pyramiding desirable traits into iconic cultivars such as Thai Jasmine Rice, Thai Glutinous rice, pigmented Riceberry, Low GI rice, Rainbow rice.
  • High Resolution Plant Phenotyping. This topic involves automated, non-destructive, whole plant physiological analysis using state-of-the-art sensors and imaging technologies including chlorophyll-fluorescence, RGB, Thermal camera, LIDAR, Hyperspectral unit, underground root imaging, and underwater plant imaging.
  • Nutritional genomics. Providing high-throughput biochemical and nutritional profiling of leaves and grains using chromatography, NMR, QTOF, and fluorescent imaging.


  • Discovery of genes responsible for producing aroma in rice (Patent obtained in the US, Australia, Japan, Vietnam, France and Europe. Patent pending in China, the Philippines and India).
  • RiceGeneThresher: A web-based application of gene mining genes underlying QTL in rice genomes.
  • New improved varieties that have been released to farmers such as certified RD51 and Homcholasit (Flash flooding tolerance, aromatic rice), Riceberry (Supernutrient, purple rice), Thanyasirin (Blast resistant glutinous rice) and and Eco-friendly, low glycemic index Pinkaset+4.
  • Implementing molecular rice breeding program in Mekong Region since 2004, a program to build up capacity in marker-assisted selection technology for breeders in the CLMV countries.
  • Rapid induction of useful genetic variation by using Fast-neutron mutagenesis generating a large-scale mutagenized population to empowering plant breeders for mining useful mutants and functional genomics.

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