plant research

New discovery to accelerate development of salt-tolerant grapevines

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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

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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).

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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).

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Small group scoops international effort to sequence huge wheat genome

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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!

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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

Overview

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.

Don’t potter around… our postgrad internship grants close soon!

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There are 5 short weeks until the next round of Postgraduate Internship Awards at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) will close – 30 November, 2017.

Internships are offered at all APPF locations (Adelaide and Canberra) for enthusiastic, highly motivated postgraduate students with a real interest in our research and technology. Current postgraduate students in the following areas are encouraged to apply:

  • Agriculture
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Computer Science
  • Genetics
  • Mathematics
  • Plant physiology
  • Science
  • Software engineering
  • Statistics

Interstate? We can help!

Our postgraduate internship awards, in general, comprise:

  • $1,500 maximum towards accommodation in Adelaide or Canberra, if required
  • $500 maximum towards travel / airfare, if required

PLUS

  • $10,000 maximum toward infrastructure use!

Multi-disciplinary opportunities

We have identified a number of priority research areas, each reflecting a global challenge and the role that advances in plant biology can play in providing a solution:

  • Tolerance to abiotic stress
  • Improving resource use efficiency in plants
  • Statistics and biometry
  • Application of mechatronic engineering to plant phenotyping
  • Application of image analysis techniques to understanding plant form and function

Students proposing other topics will also be considered.

APPF postgraduate internship awards involve access to the facility’s phenotyping capabilities to undertake collaborative projects and work as an intern with the APPF team, learning about experimental design, image analysis 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.

Postgraduate students are encouraged to contact APPF staff prior to submitting their application to discuss possible projects.

For more information and to apply click here.

Plant Biology 2018 travel grants for early-career scientists

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ASPB is offering a limited number of $575 travel grants to attend Plant Biology 2018 in Montréal, Canada. This program aims to increase attendance of early-career scientists at the annual meeting by providing travel funds for those in financial need; increasing diversity among Plant Biology attendees is another important goal. Undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and professionals beginning their careers in plant science are strongly encouraged to apply.

Applications are due December 6, 2017. Students and postdocs must include a research abstract, two letters of recommendation, and a statement that expresses why attending Plant Biology 2018 would enhance their career. (Faculty applicants do not need to submit letters of recommendation; however, they are required to indicate current and pending support.) Full details are available at the Travel Grant website.

The award consists of $575 and a partial waiver of the Plant Biology 2018 registration fee for each of the 80 recipients.

Applications are due December 6, 2017, so please visit the Travel Grant website promptly to start creating your application packet.

For more information on global plant science events, go to the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s events calendar.