Retelling the Story of Rice: companion planting (co-cultivation) of rice with ferns

Project Number
Silk Road-Retelling

Project Duration
February 2014 - January 2016


This investigation focuses on the application of plant based technology phytoremediation for the cultivation of clean rice, a key staple of Asians, and its broader social implication for food security. This research explores the exchange of green technology to the practice in rice fields. Chinese scholars maintain that rice cultivation was practiced in north China during the mythological Sheng Nung period (2700 BC). Rice was brought from north China to other regions of China and subsequently rice cultivation reached other parts of Asia. Rice was introduced to Europe via Western A5ia and it was one of the important grains traded along the old Silk Road. There are reports that rice has been tainted with arsenic and long term consumption can lead to various health problems, e.g. cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Phytoremediation is an emerging plant based green technology which uses plant hyperaccumulators to remove harmful contaminants from the environment. Both Pteris vittata (brake fem) and Pityrogramma calomelanos {silver fern) have been reported to be good arsenic hyperaccumulators. Our group has used ferns to perform phytofiltration of arsenic-tainted water so that the water will become drinkable and can attain the US EPA standard of below 10 ppb. Our hypothesis for the project is to produce "clean" rice in an arsenic tainted environment via "companion (planting" or "co-cultivation" of silver or brake ferns with rice under tropical greenhouse conditions. The overall aim of this project is to investigate whether the ferns would preferentially uptake arsenic compared to other parts of rice, e.g. rice grains and other parts of the rice plants as such parts are used as feedstock for animals. The efficiency of arsenic green biological sustainable remediation method would be investigated in the greenhouse, while its effects and efficacy on food security will be understood through a case study in Bangladesh. The theme of this project will fit into the New Silk Road Research Programme-Health and Society Theme. Consumption of clean rice for good health is the universal common basic aim for people from different cultures and Asians form the bulk of world population who consumes the most rice. Due to natural geological reasons, certain Asian countries, e.g. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, seem to face more arsenic pollution problems. This preliminary investigation, if proven successful, could be implemented in a bigger scale under field conditions for the cultivation of clean rice. Ultimately, this could mean that inter­ disciplinary collaborative work of NTU-SUTO can play a significant role in addressing food security programme.

Funding Source
Lim Lee Ping Jennifer

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