Month: February 2016

Can specialized metabolites improve drought tolerance in crops?

Lucia Montini, an Italian PhD student from the University of Copenhagen, travelled to Adelaide to work with the team of The Plant Accelerator to study the effects of environmental stress in cereals, using Sorghum bicolor as a key model plant. Here is Lucia’s blog:

‘Sorghum is the fifth most important crop in the world and can be used as a model plant to study environmental stress due its natural resistance to drought and high temperature. Dhurrin, a specialized compound present in Sorghum, is typically used by the plant as a defense compound releasing hydrogen cyanide. Under different environmental stresses, such as drought, however, dhurrin may be metabolized to provide essentials elements like nitrogen.

Collation of harvesting pics.jpg

As our project required a combination of sun and warm weather, high-quality phenomics technology and the support of expert staff, our sorghum plants were moved from currently cold and grey Denmark to sunny South Australia.

Using the high-throughput phenotyping platform of The Plant Accelerator, the Sorghum plants have been drought treated to test the hypothesis that dhurrin can provide a source of nitrogen. The plants are then re-watered to see how the compounds are re-localized in different tissues (leaves, sheath and roots) in stressed plant. The high-throughput imaging facility is used to image plants daily in order to monitor their performance under drought stress and their growth and architecture over time. Furthermore, based on the images, specific time points are selected to harvest fresh material and to apply metabolomics analysis.

I am very thankful to the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility for providing the travel grant to make this research possible! This has been an excellent opportunity to conduct my experiment with this exceptional team that made me and my plants happy and extremely welcome!’

New DroughtSpotter Project: Impact of dhurrin on drought tolerance in sorghum

Monash University researchers, led by Associate Professor Ros Gleadow, are currently carrying out an experiment at The Plant Accelerator in Adelaide investigating the impacts of dhurrin (a chemical that is toxic to grazing animals) on drought tolerance in sorghum plants.

The experiment is utilising the facility’s new DroughtSpotter, a gravimetric platform with precision irrigation allowing accurate and reproducible water application for drought stress or related experiments to test the drought tolerance of plants bred for low dhurrin content. Plants have been growing under a range of drought stresses and then harvested throughout growth for biomass characterisation and metabolomics and transcriptomic responses.


The DroughtSpotter greenhouse is available to all  publicly or commercially funded researchers. For further information, please visit the APPF website or contact Dr Trevor Garnett.

Internships – Applications Open

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility is enthusiastic about highly motivated and research focussed postgraduate students joining its team as interns. In order to attract the very best students, we provide postgraduate internship grants.

Applications close 30 April 2016. For further information click here.

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) underpins innovative plant phenomics studies to accelerate the development of new and improved crops, healthier food and more sustainable agricultural practice by providing researchers with access to high quality plant growth facilities and state-of-the-art automated phenotyping capabilities in controlled environments and in the field.

The facility involves two quite different but highly complementary research facilities; The Plant Accelerator in Adelaide and the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre (HRPPC) in Canberra.  To help accelerate research outputs, our phenomics technologies are supported by experts from a number of fields, i.e. agriculture, plant physiology, biotechnology, genetics, horticulture, image and data analysis, mechatronic engineering, computer science, software engineering, mathematics and statistics.

APPF postgraduate internship grants involve access to the facility’s phenotyping capabilities to undertake collaborative projects and to work as an intern with the APPF team to learn about experimental design, image and data analysis in plant phenomics.

Selection is based on merit. Applications are assessed on the basis of academic record, research experience and appropriateness of the proposed research topic. Interviews may be conducted.

Interstate students are strongly encouraged to apply! Internship awards include support towards airfare and accommodation.