Submitted to: Experiment Station Bulletins
Publication Type: Experiment Station
Publication Acceptance Date: June 20, 2005
Publication Date: July 5, 2005
Citation: McClung, A.M., Fjellstrom, R.G. 2005. Digging for gold. Texas Rice, Highlighting Research in 2005. p. IX.
About the time when the temperature started to turn in the Fall 2004, Dr. Merle Shepard of Clemson University sent the USDA-ARS Rice Research Unit (RRU) in Beaumont two rice seeds excavated from an archeological dig near the Old Exchange Building in Charleston, North Carolina. The seeds were discovered among artifacts in a soil layer associated with a hurricane that occurred in 1752. Dr. Shepard was aware of the fingerprinting technology that the RRU had developed for rice and wanted to determine whether the excavated seeds were evidence of Carolina Gold rice being grown in North Carolina during the time of the hurricane. The origin of Carolina Gold, the first known variety to be cultivated in the United States, is still unclear. The existence of this ancient seed could perhaps shed some light onto the origin and cultivation of Carolina Gold rice. Fran Pontasch who works in the Molecular Genetics Lab of the RRU was given the task of handling the forensics under the supervision of Dr. Robert Fjellstrom. One of the seeds was used for analysis while the other was held under safe storage. As seen in Figure 1, the excavated seed is similar to Carolina Gold in appearance and pubescence. Could enough DNA be extracted from one dirty seed over 250 years old verify its identity? Ms. Pontasch modified existing laboratory methods and was successful in producing enough DNA for a fingerprint analysis. The results were compared with several sources of Carolina Gold, cultivars of rice from other parts of the world where Carolina Gold may have originated, and with other species of rice. The results indicated that the archeological sample was not Carolina Gold, but more closely related to Southeast Asian indica varieties of rice (Oryza sativa).