50 Years of IR8 :: The rice variety which saved the world

Rice is the staple food of millions in South East Asia. People in South India and North East grow rice as the main crop. It is eaten with fish. It is the rice, that ushered green revolution in India and brought India back from the jaws of starvation. Punjab became the leader in growing the rice, a crop which was alien to North india as most people liked wheat. It is another matter that Punjab has to pay a untold price for feeding the Indian population.

Story of IR8 Rice

A few days back, it was 50 years ago, the rice variety nicknamed IR8 was launched and it saved millions in Asia and particularly in India from starvation and acted as a launchpad for Green Revolution in India.

It was almost a famine like situation in this area. The available production of edibles was insufficient to cope with the requirement. Traditional varieties of rice took 160 to 180 days for the crop cycle and yields were low.

The rice variety was developed by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which is based in Manila and works under FAO. The strain matures in 130 days and has higher yields for the same nitrogen consumption.

In the year 1962, the Institute made a cross variety using Peta, a Indonesian tall, pest resistant and vigorous variety with a dwarf Chinese variety called dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG) in the laboratory.

During field tests in Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan using the variety named IR8-288-3 showed great promise and yields it gave were almost 9 times the existing from 1 ton per hectare to 9 ton per hectare.

In Andhra Pradesh, a farmer called Nekkanti Subba Rao, experimented and sowed this rice in 2000 acres in Atchanta in West godavari. He earned the nickname of “Mr.IR8”.

The variety was commercially introduced in 1967 in the Vietnam during the American war.

The variety became popular worldwide and earned local nicknames worldwide. For example in Burma it is called Magyaw, Padi Ria in Malaysia ,Peta Baru 8 in Indonesia, Milagaru Philipino in Mexico . It was grown in Pakistan, India, Taiwan, China, and even in US.

In an interesting tale, a farmer K.N.Ganesan of Tamil Nadu named one of his sons “Irretu” meaning IR8 in Tamil.

Similarly in Vietnam the rice came to known as Honda rice as its bumper harvest enabled one farmer to purchase an Honda motorcycle.



Ammonia Clock

Ammonia is a chemical of great industrial importance as it is used in making the nitrogen based fertilizers. Its demand is so high that when Haber who developed the synthesis of ammonia by combining nitrogen and hydrogen using catalytic method, he was awarded Nobel prize.

Here we will discuss its peculiar structure. Nitrogen is the central atom to which 3 hydrogen atoms are attached. But due to sp2 hybridized bonds it is not flat but trigonal prism. A pair of electrons resides on the nitrogen giving it basicity.

The ammonia molecule readily undergoes nitrogen inversion at room temperature like an umbrella turning itself inside out in a strong wind. The energy barrier to this inversion is 24.7 kJ/mol, and the resonance frequency is 23.79 GHz, corresponding to microwave radiation of a wavelength of 1.260 cm. The absorption at this frequency was the first microwave spectrum to be observed. This frequency of flipping is so constant at a given tempertaure that it was used to construct very accurate clock called ammonia clock. It was the first atomic clock constructed by NBS in 1949.

First Atomic Clock (US NBS)

Its caption read as follows:

The Bureau atomic clock program sought to provide a spectroscopic standard capable of being used as a new atomic standard of time and frequency to replace the mean solar day and so change the arbitrary units of time to atomic ones. With such a clock, new precise values might be found for the velocity of light; new measurements of the rotation of the earth would provide a new tool for geophysicists; and new measurements of the mean sidereal year might test whether Newtonian and atomic time are the same, yielding important results for relativity theory and cosmology”

It operated with an ammonia-regulated quartz crystal and ran with a constancy of one part in 20 million.