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Friday, December 19, 2008

Rainy-Day Rice

Dictator, Hun Xen of Cambodia is plowing his rice field in the rainy season with lots of his ducks following him to catch minnows and snails.

Asian farmers will get a disaster-proof version of an essential crop After years of testing in muddy fields, genetically enhanced flood-resistant rice is about to hit agricultural markets in tropical Asia, following Indonesia, with India and Bangladesh up for approval later this year. Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam are expected to follow suit.

It's a major step forward for weatherproof crops, increasingly touted as essential to the long-term future of the world's food supply. Advances in biotechnology have improved this ancient grain, which accounts for up to 70 percent of daily calories for people living in Asian countries. Imperiled by constant floods, rising sea levels and natural disasters, submerged rice survives just four days when deprived of light and oxygen. These new varieties last eight to 18 days.

The advance is urgently needed. "At least [58,000 square miles] of land in South and Southeast Asia are vulnerable to flooding, and floods will only increase," says Dave Mackill, a senior scientist with Manila's International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In 2007, Cyclone Sidr destroyed 1.25 million tons of rice in Bangladesh; last year, multiple typhoons wiped out rice paddies in Vietnam.

To find a suitable template for the flood-resistant rice, Mackill turned to India's water-tolerant FR13A rice. Farmers stopped using the strain because of its poor yield, but its resilience intrigued him. To pinpoint the part of the rice genome carrying the trait, Mackill crossbred a hardy derivative of FR13A with another rice strain and derived 4,000 other rice plants from that cross. Geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California at Davis then searched the plants' DNA and unearthed Sub1A, a gene that triggers the grain to conserve energy when it is underwater. To create the final rice strain, Mackill cross-pollinated a Sub1A-containing plant with a high-yielding, better-tasting Indian rice variety.

In the coming years, IRRI researchers will supplement Sub1-class rice with a gene that resists flooding during the sensitive germination stage (something the Sub1 genes can't do). Also on the agenda: drought- and salt-resistant rice, now testing in nearly every Southeast Asian tropical country and China. Asia's inland and coastal areas often have salt-filled soil, which stunts rice growth.

The IRRI has already made its rice seed available to other research institutions and has been distributing it to Asian farmers for free. When sold by other seed growers on the commercial markets, the price should rival that of common varieties. "We anticipate adoption wherever submergence is a regular problem," Mackill says. If the rice is a success, climate-resistant crops may spread across the developing world, as well as the developed.

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Cambodian PM urges wayward monks to follow Buddha's rules

PHNOM PENH, Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen has appealed to the Kingdom's Buddhist clergy to behave, saying that monk's misdeeds are causing citizens to lose respect for religion, national media reported Friday.

"If monks causing social problems, it is very difficult for me," Hun Sen said during the closing ceremony of the 17th monk congress, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Hun Sen urged the community of monks to respect the rules by which monks must live, the Post said.

He said he had been shocked when he saw Buddhist monks dancing in a recording on one of his children's mobile phones, and mentioned an unidentified temple where the chief monk had collected money from ceremonies to buy himself a car.

However, he said this did not reflect on the overall spiritual health of the nation.

"These are individual monks making problems. Citizens should not consider it an issue of the whole religion, but equally, we must not be careless over the issue," Hun Sen said.

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China tops list of investing countries in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, China topped the list of foreign investing countries in Cambodia in the past 14 years, with total amount reaching 5.707 billion U.S. dollars, national media on Friday quoted official source as saying.

South Korea trailed China with 2.749 billion U.S. dollars, followed by Malaysia with 2.199 billion U.S. dollars, officials of the Cambodian Investment Committee told Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily at a commercial seminar held here on Thursday.

From 1994 to October 2008, Cambodia has attracted 24.768 billion U.S. dollars of foreign investment in all, with 24 percent of the investment used for service sector, 22 percent for industry,5 percent for agriculture and the rest for construction and others, the paper said. Read more!

Enjoy Jolie with Cambodian Beef (VIDEO


Movie: Best of Angelina Jolie

Dinner: Cambodian Marinated Beef With Lime Sauce

The Movie: Seems like there are two camps when it comes to the popularity of Angelina Jolie.

Some like the 33-year-old actress for her Oscar-winning film roles, her dedication to her family and her adopted children, and her tireless work with charities worldwide.

Some dislike Jolie, citing her secret affair and subsequent relationship with Brad Pitt, her cockiness and coldness in interviews, and her stunning movie star looks that tend to overshadow her somewhat inconsistent performances.

Either way, Jolie is someone we all take notice of. And when it comes to the big screen -- a place where she's recently hinted about retiring from -- Jolie's done plenty over the years to accumulate an impressive resume.

Her latest film to come to DVD is the slick action flick "Wanted," with Morgan Freeman and James McAvoy (co-star of both "The Last King of Scotland" and "Atonement). In "Wanted," McAvoy plays a bored office worker who discovers he's the son of a professional assassin. After his father is murdered, Jolie trains him to follow in his dad's footsteps. Let the adventure begin!

So when you go to rent "Wanted," here are some older Jolie films to check out as well.

She won the best supporting actress Academy Award in 1999 for "Girl, Interrupted," a true story in which she plays a wildly menacing sociopath in a mental hospital. Winona Ryder was the big star heading into that movie, but all the talk afterward was about Jolie's memorable turn.
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