What looks like a flock of giant, robotic geese in a field near Beaumont, Texas, is actually new technology shedding light on how scientists can develop better varieties of rice.

Specially designed equipment is monitoring photosynthesis in 14 rice varieties at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont, according to Dr. Ted Wilson, director and lead scientist on the study.

"Photosynthesis is the engine that drives crop growth, development and yield. By understanding the physiology behind photosynthesis better, we can use this information to determine what plants to select in a plant breeding program, with the end result being a more efficient and faster rate of developing new varieties," Wilson said. "In a nutshell, the faster one can develop a new variety, the greater the rate of yield increase and thus grower income."

In field studies, Wilson and his team are looking at a series of inbred rice varieties and their offspring, which are called hybrids. The idea is to try to determine the inheritance of different traits and how much of the photosynthetic rates of a variety can be inherited from the male and female plants.