In a blow to local weather whiners, a brand new breakthrough creates crops that may develop 50% extra potatoes and rice – Watts Up With That?

Like clockwork, every year climate activists and their media enablers publish bold headlines claiming that global warming aka “climate change” will result in crop yield reductions, crop failures, and food shortages. Of course this sort of claim has been going on for decades, yet has never actually happened. Cue failed doomsayer Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb.

The most recent absurd claim is from CNN Business who says:  Climate-driven crop failures are driving up food prices.

“Climate change is coming right into our dining room tables,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist and climatologist.

Of course, the data for actual crop yields doesn’t support that, their claims are all based on model projections rather than real-world data. Real-world data shows ever increasing global crop yields.

As shown in the chart above, the FAO’s recent “Cereal Supply and Demand Brief” reports new global records are being set nearly every year for production of the cereal crops (corn, wheat, rice, and similar crop staples) that comprise most of global food consumption.

But, real science without any social engineering agenda has just made all of these claims moot, especially in poorer countries where rice is the main staple of the diet.

The University of Chicago (UC) recently announced breakthrough research published in Nature Biotechnology that will yield increased crop production. By doing a simple manipulation of the RNA in plant cells,  this new modification allows plants to yield dramatically more crops, as well as increased drought tolerance

According to UC, in initial tests, adding a gene encoding for a protein called FTO to both rice and potato plants increased their yield by 50% in field tests. The plants grew significantly larger, produced longer root systems and were better able to tolerate drought stress. Further analysis also showed that the plants had increased their rate of photosynthesis.

On the left, rice plants without the RNA modification. On the right, a rice plant with the RNA modification that boosts yield. Note the plant on the right has double the number of rice kernels. Image courtesy of Yu et al.

“The change really is dramatic,” said University of Chicago Prof. Chuan He, who together with Prof. Guifang Jia at Peking University led the research.

“What’s more, it worked with almost every type of plant we tried it with so far, and it’s a very simple modification to make.”

The method has created some exciting results.

UC reports the rice plants grew three times more rice under laboratory conditions. When they tried it out in real field tests, the plants grew 50% more mass and yielded 50% more rice. They grew longer roots, photosynthesized more efficiently, and could better withstand stress from drought.

The scientists repeated the experiments with potato plants, which are part of a completely different plant family. The results were the same.

Above, the potato yield from unmodified plants. Below, the yield from plants with the new RNA modification. Image courtesy of Yu et al.

The fact that the same RNA modification worked on both potatoes and rice suggests a degree of universality for the new discovery that is extremely exciting. As the researchers try other staple crops such as corn and soybeans, the results, especially for American farmers could be dramatic.

While environmentalists and food safety critic will probably try to label this improvement yet another variation of “frankenfood”, it turns out the researchers are not doing any genetic modifications (GMO) at all, but merely tapping into something already in the plant.

According to Guifang Jia, one of the UC researchers, “This is a brand new type of approach, one that could be different from GMO and CRISPR gene editing; this technique allows us to “flip a switch” in the plants at an early point in development, which continues to affect the plant’s food production even after we remove the switch.”

“It seems that plants already have this layer of regulation, and all we did is tap into it. So the next step would be to discover how to do it using the plant’s existing genetics,” he said.

According to Michael Kremer, another UC researcher,  “This is a very exciting technology and could potentially help address problems of poverty and food insecurity at a global scale.”

Indeed, once it is applied on a global scale, it would essentially negate any argument made by climate change advocates that climate change will affect food production in a negative way, but that won’t stop them from trying.

The paper: RNA demethylation increases the yield and biomass of rice and potato plants in field trials


RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modifications are essential in plants. Here, we show that transgenic expression of the human RNA demethylase FTO in rice caused a more than threefold increase in grain yield under greenhouse conditions. In field trials, transgenic expression of FTO in rice and potato caused ~50% increases in yield and biomass. We demonstrate that the presence of FTO stimulates root meristem cell proliferation and tiller bud formation and promotes photosynthetic efficiency and drought tolerance but has no effect on mature cell size, shoot meristem cell proliferation, root diameter, plant height or ploidy. FTO mediates substantial m6A demethylation (around 7% of demethylation in poly(A) RNA and around 35% decrease of m6A in non-ribosomal nuclear RNA) in plant RNA, inducing chromatin openness and transcriptional activation. Therefore, modulation of plant RNA m6A methylation is a promising strategy to dramatically improve plant growth and crop yield.

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