Silicon, the silver bullet for mitigating biotic and abiotic stress, and improving grain quality, in rice?

Caroline Meharg*, Andrew A. Meharg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

108 Citations (Scopus)
635 Downloads (Pure)


Adequate silicon fertilization greatly boosts rice yield and mitigates biotic and abiotic stress, and improves grain quality through lowering the content of cadmium and inorganic arsenic. This review on silicon dynamics in rice considers recent advances in our understanding of the role of silicon in rice, and the challenges of maintaining adequate silicon fertility within rice paddy systems. Silicon is increasingly considered as an element required for optimal plant performance, particularly in rice. Plants can survive with very low silicon under laboratory/glasshouse conditions, but this is highly artificial and, thus, silicon can be considered as essential for proper plant function in its environment. Silicon is incorporated into structural components of rice cell walls were it increases cell and tissue rigidity in the plant. Structural silicon provides physical protection to plants against microbial infection and insect attack as well as reducing the quality of the tissue to the predating organisms. The abiotic benefits are due to silicon's effect on overall organ strength. This helps protect against lodging, drought stress, high temperature (through efficient maintenance of transpiration), and photosynthesis by protecting against high UV. Furthermore, silicon also protects the plant from saline stress and against a range of toxic metal stresses (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel and zinc). Added to this, silicon application decreases grain concentrations of various human carcinogens, in particular arsenic, antimony and cadmium. As rice is efficient at stripping bioavailable silicon from the soil, recycling of silicon rich rice straw biomass or addition of inorganic silicon fertilizer, primarily obtained from iron and steel slag, needs careful management. Silicon in the soil may be lost if the silicon-cycle, traditionally achieved via composting of rice straw and returning it to the land, is being broken. As composting of rice straw and incorporation of composted or non-composted straw back to land are resource intensive activities, these activities are declining due to population shifts from the countryside to cities. Processes that accelerate rice straw composting, therefore, need to be identified to aid more efficient use of this resource. In addition, rice genetics may help address declining available silicon in paddy soils: for example by selecting for characteristics during breeding that lead to an increased ability of roots to access recalcitrant silicon sources from soil and/or via selection for traits that aid the maintenance of a high silicon status in shoots. Recent advances in understanding the genetic regulation of silicon uptake and transport by rice plants will aid these goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-17
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Early online date04 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Abiotic
  • Arsenic
  • Biotic
  • Cadmium
  • Defence
  • Rice
  • Silicon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science

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