MrSeb writes: "An unfortunate and little reported side effect of last year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami is that thousands of acres of farmland were contaminated with seawater. Rice is a staple crop in Japan, and it requires large amounts of water to grow. The salt in seawater, however, stunts or outright kills the plant. Researchers out of Riken Nishina Centre near Tokyo have been looking at the problem, and it just so happens they have a particle accelerator laying around. Mutations naturally accumulate over time (this is evolution), but this rate is far too slow for meaningful research. Past efforts in inducing mutations have relied on X-rays or gamma radiation to cause mutations in crops, but a particle accelerator should be able to accomplish the same thing much faster. Dr. Tomoko Abe is leading the research and hopes that the particle accelerator will prove superior to traditional methods. Initial results indicate this approach can produce 10-100 times more mutations. After bombarding 600 seeds in her particle accelerator, Dr. Abe has created 250 mutant strains that were able to grow in salt water and produce fertile seeds of their own. The next step is to replant the most successful specimens and begin sorting out the traits that make them grow so well. With enough testing, Dr. Abe hopes to be able to generate an edible strain of rice in four years that can grow in a high-salt environment. If this research is a success, the effects could reach much farther than northern Japan; there are many coastal locations around the world that could benefit from a more hearty strain of salt-resistant rice."
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