The Van Trump Report

This Startup is Looking to Grow Rice In the Ocean… Then Perhaps Wheat and Corn

Ocean agriculture startup “Alora” is using CRISPR tools in their pilot program to grow rice plants on land in salty waters and eventually plan to move them to floating platforms off the coasts of African and Asian countries. To thrive in a saline environment plants like seagrasses and mangroves have had to adapt and eventually evolved a tolerance to salt. Alora says the same set of genes that allows these plants and others to grow in saltwater is lying dormant and unused in many of our terrestrial crops such as rice, wheat, and corn. The hope is by activating the genes, those crops could soon be grown in brackish water, or even directly in the ocean.

Alora co-founder Luke Young was able to find a particular pattern of eight genes that work together to allow the plant to not only defend itself against the saline environment but actually use it to its own benefit as a way to power growth. Using CRISPER tools, Young is hoping to overcome one of the main objections to genetically modifying foods like soybeans and corn by introducing genes from one species into another, creating transgenic organisms. 

Alora is starting its work with rice specifically because it is particularly vulnerable to saltwater intrusion via the invasion of coastal soil by ocean water, which is exacerbated by human activities such as groundwater extraction, not to mention it is the world’s third most produced crop. They plan to start a trial in the Mekong Delta, a dizzying maze of swamplands, streams, rice paddies, and river towns in between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh as it’s one of the region’s most prominent agricultural areas and accounts for 50% of the rice production in Vietnam, the world’s fifth-largest producer of rice, with exports that topped $3.27 billion in 2021.

Keep in mind, seawater naturally flows into the Delta every year, but recent droughts and manmade structures like dams have reduced the delta’s ability to dilute and wash away the salt through freshwater, meaning governments and growers alike are now taking steps against saltwater intrusion, a problem which caused a loss of one million tons of rice in the delta in the 2015–2016 harvesting season alone. Rice is severely compromised by a salinity level above 3 grams per liter which is about a tenth of the saltiness of seawater and those levels have already been surpassed in some parts of Vietnam. At the moment Alora has plants that are comfortably growing in half the level of oceanic salt water, and Young states that they know exactly what to do to get to full oceanic salt levels.

Once positive results from land agriculture trials have been achieved, Alora plans to move on to ocean agriculture by starting the rice plants for two to three weeks on land and then transferring them to platforms up to 30 feet across, floating on the water in aquatic farms. From what I understand, they’ll be able to survive as far as 120 miles from the coast. Interestingly, any further and the levels of nutrients in the water drop too much. According to Young, the pilot project is planned for the next year or so in Singapore, initially in a lab setting. 

Ed Barrett-Lennard, an expert in saline agriculture who is not involved with Alora’s company but is familiar with its research, says the startup’s technology has him skeptical but hopeful, and he adds that the most exciting thing is the proof of concept, meaning making crops salt tolerant would be hugely transformative, and even getting part of the way there would encourage other scientific groups to take up the baton and move in this direction. In my opinion, CRISPER is still very much in its infancy in determining how far we can go towards shortening the breeding cycle for nutritious foods grown more sustainably but I suspect the next decade will provide many of those answers. (Source:,, freethink,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *