Month: November 2017

Biotype of Australia’s Russian wheat aphid populations now known


Australian scientists have confirmed that the Russian Wheat Aphid (RWA) now established throughout parts of the nation’s south-eastern cropping regions is a single biotype.

This new knowledge, achieved through research investments by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), will underpin ongoing and future research efforts aimed at combating the cereal crop pest which was first detected in South Australia in 2016.

Now present in areas of SA, Victoria, Tasmania and southern New South Wales, RWA has been the focus of several unprecedented GRDC research investment undertakings which are providing the Australian grains industry with greater understanding of the pest and its potential impact, to inform management strategies.

Experiments to identify the biotype/biotypes of the aphid present in Australia and possible origin of the incursion have been led by entomologists Maarten van Helden and Greg Baker from the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI), a division of Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA).

Their work has concluded that the aphids present in Australia belong to a single biotype (having the same genetic make-up), named RWAau1.

Dr van Helden says the virulence profile of RWAau1 is nearly identical to the American RWA1 biotype which suggests that the origin of the incursion in Australia is either from the United States of America or from the same origin as the original RWA1 that was first detected in Colorado in the USA in 1986.

“Not only does this information help to identify the most likely geographical origin of the aphid, and the possible incursion pathway, but it also enables identification of the plant resistance genes – among the many existing overseas – that could be used by breeders to develop new resistant cereal varieties,” said Dr van Helden.

“While it is still important to know where, when and how this aphid has arrived in Australia (to avoid other incursions), it is even more important to know what ‘biotype’ or biotype(s) of the aphid have appeared in Australia, to be able to potentially develop sustainable integrated management strategies which include plant resistance as one tool.”

The biotype research involved screening the clones of aphid samples collected from 15 Australian RWA colonies in 2016. A set of 24 specially imported wheat and barley lines possessing known RWA resistance genes was exposed to the 15 RWA clones.

The experiment, which took place in the quarantine facility at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Adelaide node, involved almost 7,000 plants which were infested with 34,000 aphids.

Dr van Helden said the results showed no significant differences in the virulence profile among the 15 clones towards the 24 cereal accessions.

“This suggests that they all belong to a single biotype. And the resemblance of RWAau1 with the RWA1 biotype means that all the resistance genes already developed and exploited in varieties in the USA against RWA1 could be used either directly (if imported through quarantine and adapted to Australian conditions) or – more likely – to improve Australian varieties.

“Some other resistance genes used in South Africa will also be efficient against this biotype. Since single (dominant) gene resistances have been overcome frequently overseas, the availability of multiple resistance genes means breeding efforts could consider creating accessions using more than a single resistance gene, which would reduce the probability of new biotypes evolving rapidly.”

In addition to experiments to determine aphid biotype, the GRDC has been investing in research to confirm susceptibility of commercial wheat and barley cultivars to RWA; assessing potential sources of plant resistance; RWA biology, ecology and economic thresholds under Australian conditions; an investigation into alternate hosts for RWA; trials looking at insecticide efficacy; and development of practical resources for growers and advisers.

Dr van Helden and Mr Baker have also led work focused on assessing sources of RWA plant resistance. A glasshouse experiment was conducted where diverse germplasm from around the world was screened using RWAau1 to determine potential sources of resistance that might be utilised in breeding new varieties.

Dr Lauren Du Fall from the GRDC, who has been overseeing key host resistance-related experiments, says through assessing sources of resistance and the biotyping work, it appears the Australian industry has access to germplasm with potential genetic resistance that could be developed through breeding to deliver Australian growers new resistant varieties, if that is considered to be an economically viable and sustainable approach to controlling RWA by commercial breeding companies.

“We are really getting on the front foot here to provide breeders and industry with all of the information necessary to make informed decisions on the most appropriate strategy to manage RWA as an endemic pest to south-eastern Australia,” Dr Du Fall said.

Dr Du Fall said it must be remembered that while plant resistance has been deployed as a management strategy in areas of the world where RWA is a serious risk, the aphid has responded through the evolution of new biotypes attacking these resistant plants.

The GRDC is therefore emphasising that genetic plant resistance will not be “the solution” to RWA control, but it will form part of an integrated pest management strategy that includes green bridge management, agronomic practices, strategic use of insecticides, and exploitation of natural enemies of the pest.

While the introduction of RWA presents yet another pest for growers to control, experts supported by the GRDC believe it should be a manageable pest. RWA management options for growers are outlined in the comprehensive Russian Wheat Aphid: Tactics for Future Control manual, which has been published by the GRDC and is available here.

Story source: GRDC.

For more information on this research, contact: Maarten van Helden, SARDI-PIRSA, +61 8 8303 9537.

New discovery to accelerate development of salt-tolerant grapevines


A recent discovery by Australian scientists is likely to improve the sustainability of the Australian wine sector and significantly accelerate the breeding of more robust salt-tolerant grapevines.

With funding from Wine Australia, a team of scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Adelaide and CSIRO Agriculture and Food identified genes expressed in grapevine roots that limit the amount of sodium – a key component of salt – that reaches berries and leaves.

The research has been published this week in the journal New Phytologist.

‘Berries that contain too much sodium may be unsuitable for wine production and this can lead to vineyards remaining unpicked, resulting in financial losses for vineyard owners,’ says Dr Sam Henderson, co-first author of the study, from the University of Adelaide.

‘We set out to determine why some grapevines accumulate salt and others don’t, and found a specific mutation in a sodium transport protein found in grapevine roots, which prevents it from working effectively. This leads to more salt leaking into the shoots of vines from the soil,’ Dr Henderson says.

While low levels of salt can improve the flavour of wine, in excess it can lead to unpalatable tastes, reduce fruit yield and damage the long-term health of grapevines – it is a problem experienced in premium wine regions around the world. In Australia’s broader agriculture, food and wine sectors, issues caused by salinity have been estimated to cost in excess of $1 billion each year.

‘By comparing the DNA of different grapevines we identified a specific gene that is associated with sodium exclusion from shoots,’ says co-first author Dr Jake Dunlevy from CSIRO.

‘This discovery has allowed us to develop genetic markers that are being used to breed more salt-tolerant grapevine rootstocks, allowing new genotypes to be screened at the seedling stage rather than through lengthy and expensive field-based vineyard trials.’

‘Traditionally, winegrape rootstocks have been developed in wine producing regions in the United States and Europe. This new research supports a breeding program to combine multiple beneficial traits in grapevines using conventional breeding, to develop robust rootstocks specifically for Australian conditions and support the local wine sector’s sustainability well into the future,’ says Dr Liz Waters, Wine Australia’s General Manager Research, Development and Extension.

A family of 40 hybrid rootstocks, together with both parents, were screened for leaf sodium (Na+) exclusion ability at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Adelaide node as part of the research.

The research was led by Dr Mandy Walker, CSIRO, and Professor Matthew Gilliham, University of Adelaide, who are continuing to collaborate on additional factors that will further improve grapevine salt tolerance, such as the exclusion of chloride.

Story shared by ARC Centre of Excellence Plant Energy Biology.

China taps into Australian plant phenomics expertise


The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s (APPF) Dr Trevor Garnett and Dr Xavier Sirault are delighted to have been invited as a feasibility evaluation experts to review the Nanjing Agricultural University’s (NAU) plans for a new high-tech Phenotyping Research Centre later this month.

While in Nanjing, China, they will also give a talks at a phenotyping workshop at NAU and are invited guests of the Modern Agricultural Science and Technology Conference. Dr Garnett and Dr Sirault will return again to Nanjing in March 2018 as a keynote speakers at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Plant Phenotyping Conference.

Earlier this year Prof. Yanfeng Ding, Professor of Agronomy, Vice President NAU and colleagues traveled to Australia and met with Dr Garnett and Dr Sirault to tour the APPF’s facilities, and learn more about the latest plant phenotyping technology and expertise. The APPF is visited regularly by international agricultural research groups; most recently from Egypt, Sri Lanka, China, France, Morocco, Taiwan, Iran, Chile and New Zealand.

The APPF is a distributed network of national research infrastructure platforms that offer open access to plant phenomics technologies and expertise not available at this scale or breadth in the public sector anywhere else in the world. We provide state-of-the-art plant phenotyping tools and expertise to enable academic and commercial plant scientists, from Australia and around the world, address complex problems in plant and agricultural science.

About Dr Trevor Garnett

Dr Garnett is Technology Development Director at the APPF’s Adelaide node, based at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide. There, he is implementing new phenotyping technologies for the Australian phenomics community, such as hyperspectral imaging in controlled environments and the field, field phenotyping using UAVs and ground based platforms, and root phenotyping. Dr Garnett is also the Phenomics Program Leader of the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate. His research interests include nitrogen use efficiency in cereals. (Dr Garnett is pictured above, talking with His Excellency Mr Mohamed Khairat, Ambassador of The Arab Republic of Egypt, in the APPF’s DroughtSpotter).

About Dr Xavier Sirault

Dr Sirault is Director of the APPF’s Canberra (CSIRO) node where he is responsible for its operational management, international engagement and transfer of its technology to industries. In parallel to this role, Dr Sirault works as a Senior Research Scientist for CSIRO Agriculture and Food. His research aims at understanding the factors that regulate and limit photosynthesis in crop plants, and in particular, how these factors influence plant growth and performance. Dr Sirault is also Vice Chair of the International Plant Phenotyping Network where he hopes to spearhead the development of solutions for maximising data inter-operability and data re-use globally. (Dr Sirault is pictured below, welcoming His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka, and his delegation).


About Nanjing Agricultural University

NAU is one of the earliest institutions of higher agricultural education in China and a national key university under the Chinese Ministry of Education. A 2012 analysis of research citations by Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators found NAU among the top 1% of institutions in the fields of Agricultural Science, Plant & Animal Science and Environment/Ecology. Building on its century-long history, NAU is today pursuing a strategy of developing into one of the best agricultural universities in the world. The main campus of the university is situated in Weigang, in the picturesque eastern part of Nanjing near the UNESCO World Heritage Ming Imperial Tombs and the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. (NAU is pictured below).


Small group scoops international effort to sequence huge wheat genome


The wheat genome is finally complete. A giant international consortium of academics and companies has been trying to finish the challenging DNA sequence for more than a decade, but in the end, it was a small US-led team that scooped the prize. Researchers hope that the genome of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) will aid efforts to study and improve a staple crop on which around 2 billion people rely.

The wheat genome is crop geneticists’ Mount Everest. It is huge — more than five times the size of a single copy of the human genome — and harbours six copies of each chromosome, adding up to between 16 billion and 17 billion letters of DNA. And more than 80% of it is made of repetitive sequences. These stretches are especially vexing for scientists trying to assemble the short DNA segments generated by sequencing machines into much longer chromosome sequences.

It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle filled with pieces of blue sky, says Steven Salzberg, a genomicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the latest sequencing effort. “The wheat genome is full of blue sky. All these pieces look like a lot of other pieces, but they’re not exactly alike.”

Read the full story, written by Ewen Callaway and published in Nature, here.

New APPF website coming soon!


The new Australian Plant Phenomics Facility website is well into development and we can’t wait to show it off!!

As we put the finishing touches into place, we would like to know if there is any information, tools or knowledge you would find useful that is not available on our current site. Your feedback will contribute to making our new site an informative and valuable tool for all. Contact us here.

In the meantime, make sure you are subscribed to our news blog and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for our latest plant science news.

Breeders and researchers unite to accelerate variety advances


Wheat variety development has been given an important boost through a new research hub that pairs three universities with three breeding companies to advance and potentially speed-up new trait discoveries. The hub pulls together advanced pre-breeding technology and fosters its utilisation by commercial breeding programs.

Included is technology that can rapidly screen a vast amount of biodiversity for traits that can potentially improve crop resilience, grain quality and yield.

First among the traits to be targeted by the hub is tolerance to the combined stress of heat and drought. This work is underway at the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate, a five-year program that is co-funded by the Australian Research Council and the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC). It is headed by Dr Delphine Fleury at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus. Participant breeding companies LongReach, Australian Grain Technologies and InterGrain are running the field trials associated with typing and screening novel germplasm.

“We are seeing the most progress in the drone program,” Dr Fleury says. “This uses imaging technology to robotically screen plants and algorithms to convert plant growth data to physiological and genetic information. Collaboration between Uni SA, the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (University of Adelaide Waite Campus) and breeders within the hub has vastly improved the image-processing algorithms, which expands the range of this technology and its capability.”

“With breeding companies running the field trials, breeders also have the opportunity to observe the plants and pick material of interest to them to progress further,” Dr Fleury says. “In the meantime, pre-breeding researchers can phenotype the material and
map genes of interest.”

To further advance heat and drought-tolerance research, 350 lines representing worldwide diversity of spring wheat are also being studied within a heat chamber, where it is possible to apply heat and drought stress at specific stages of the plant’s development.

Read the full article, by Dr Gio Braidotti, in the latest issue of GroundCover here.

To find out how technology at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility can support your plant research, contact us.