the plant accelerator

Professor Mark Tester to talk plant science in Adelaide

Professor Mark Tester from King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, will present a talk in Adelaide this March:

“Into the field and into the genome – increasing salinity tolerance of crops”

Time:  Wednesday 8 March, 3.30pm – 4:30pm
Venue:  Hosted by The University of Adelaide, Plant Science Department, the talk will be held in the Plant Genomics Centre seminar room (Waite Campus, The University of Adelaide, South Australia) with drinks and nibbles afterwards. All are welcome.

About the speaker

Mark Tester is Professor of Bioscience at KAUST. After a PhD in Cambridge and lectureship there, he went to Adelaide, as a Research Professor in the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. Mark was part of the team that led the establishment of this Facility, a $55m organisation that develops and delivers state-of-the-art phenotyping facilities, including The Plant Accelerator, an innovative plant growth and analysis facility. In his research group, forward and reverse genetic approaches are used to understand salinity tolerance and improve this in crops such as barley and tomatoes. His aspiration is to develop a new agricultural system where brackish water and seawater can be unlocked for food production.

Abstract

One-third of the world’s food is produced under irrigation, and this is directly threatened by over-exploitation of water resources and global environmental change. In this talk, the focus will be on the use of forward genetics to discover genes affecting salinity tolerance in barley, rice and tomatoes, along with some recent genomics in quinoa, a partially domesticated crop with high salinity tolerance. Rather than studying salinity tolerance as a trait in itself, we dissect salinity tolerance into a series of components that are hypothesised to contribute to overall salinity tolerance.

For barley, two consecutive years of field trials were conducted at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, a site with sandy soil and very low precipitation. Drip irrigation systems allowed the control of salinity by supplying plots with low (1 dS/m) and high salinity water (17 dS/m). A barley Nested Association Mapping (NAM) population developed by Klaus Pillen has been used to dissect physiologically and genetically complex traits in response to salt stress. Ten traits related to yield and yield components (e.g. days to flowering, harvest index, 100 seed mass) were recorded and five stress-indices were derived from each of these measurements. We have identified two significant loci located on the long arms of chromosomes 1H and 5H, which are both associated with several traits contributing to salinity tolerance, namely days to flowering, days to maturity, harvest index and yield.

For tomatoes, the focus is on genetics of tolerance in wild tomatoes, specifically Solanum galapagense, Solanum cheesmaniae and Solanum pimpinellifolium. An association genetic approach is being taken. High quality genome sequences have been made, and genotyping-by-sequencing undertaken. Tomatoes have been phenotyped in The Plant Accelerator and in the field, and analyses are currently in progress.

The application of this approach provides opportunities to significantly increase abiotic stress tolerance of crops, and thus contribute to increasing agricultural production in many regions.

Mark is in Adelaide between Mon 6th and Sun 12th March. If you would like to meet with Mark, please contact him directly: mark.tester@kaust.edu.sa

The Plant Accelerator

Plant phenotyping research projects facilitated by The Plant Accelerator vary from large scale screening of early growth, to salinity tolerance and water and nutrient use efficiency. Possible applications are diverse with respect to the measured traits and plant species studied. Please contact our experts to discuss how your research might benefit from the capabilities and services provided by The Plant Accelerator.

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The Plant Accelerator®,  Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, Adelaide, South Australia

Delicious potential: The genome of quinoa decoded

Scientists have successfully decoded the genome of quinoa, one of the world’s most nutritious and resilient crops.

The study, published online this week in Nature, was an international collaboration led by Professor Mark Tester at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

The enormously popular “super-food” is gluten-free, has a low glycaemic index and contains an excellent balance of essential amino acids, fibre, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, causing international demand for the grain to soar and prices to skyrocket as demand exceeds supply.

“Apart from its nutritional benefits, the ability of quinoa to grow on marginal land is possibly most exciting”, said Prof Mark Tester. “It can grow in poor soils, salty soils and at high altitudes. It really is a very tough plant. Quinoa could provide a healthy, nutritious food source for the world using land and water that currently cannot be used, and our new genome takes us one step closer to that goal.”

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Quinoa pilot trials in the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s high-throughput phenotyping Smarthouse at The Plant Accelerator®

Future research projects will focus on identifying the genes that make quinoa so tolerant to poor soils. In pilot experiments carried out at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Adelaide node, The Plant Accelerator®, different growth conditions and salt applications were tested in preparation for larger-scale studies. The first studies showed that quinoa still grows well when watered with half-strength sea water, when many other crops would die. Since performing these initial experiments, Professor Tester and his team have secured further research funding to work towards establishing quinoa as a broadacre crop.

“We are extremely excited to support this important research”, said Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director at The Plant Accelerator®. “As part of this collaborative project, The Plant Accelerator® will perform two screening runs of a diversity panel in the second half of 2017 to identify the genetic basis of salt tolerance in quinoa”.

Further reading:

The full published study in Nature. doi:10.1038/nature21370

KAUST An Integrated Repository for Population Genomics in genus Chenopodium

BBC News online article

Nature Middle East online article

 

Getting to the root of the problem wins

olivia-cousins-poster-prize-photo

Congratulations to Olivia Cousins, one of the Adelaide-Nottingham PhD students, who won the student poster prize at a joint conference between Soil Science Australia and New Zealand Soil Science Society, held in Queenstown, NZ recently.

Olivia’s poster, which included co-authors from The University of Adelaide, The University of Nottingham and The Plant Accelerator® at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, was one of approximately 100 posters presented at the conference. The award also includes a cash prize for Olivia.

We announced Olivia’s study here in our blog in May. The aim of her study was to quantify the impact of different soil moisture regimes and increasing levels of soil nitrogen supply on shoot and root response in wheat plants. Olivia’s experiment utilised the DroughtSpotter, a precision irrigation platform allowing accurate and reproducible water application for drought stress or related experiments. She also used the facility’s PlantEye laser scanner to non-destructively measure plant growth.

Olivia plans an exciting move to Nottingham in 2018 to continue her research including root traits and responses across different wheat species.

To view Olivia’s poster… soilecology.org/conference-posters.

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility is available to all researchers and/or industry. For bookings please contact Dr Trevor Garnett.

 

 

Drip-fed success

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) is pleased to announce the new DroughtSpotter precision irrigation platform has been fully tested and commissioned, and is now ready to support your plant phenomics research.

The DroughtSpotter is a gravimetric platform with precision irrigation allowing accurate and reproducible water application for drought stress or related experiments.

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Left:  Wheat plants on the DroughtSpotter  –  Right:  Cecilia and Viviana from Monash University harvest sorghum plants during their research

A number of pilot projects were carried out to test the platform with excellent results.

Monash University researchers, led by Associate Professor Ros Gleadow, investigated the impacts of dhurrin (a chemical that is toxic to grazing animals) on drought tolerance in sorghum plants. Plants were grown under a range of drought stresses and then harvested throughout growth for biomass characterisation, metabolomics and transcriptomic responses.

“We found the DroughtSpotter to be an excellent platform to apply accurate, reproducible amounts of water to large numbers of individual plants for growth and compositional analysis under different levels of water limitation,”said Associate Professor Gleadow.

Led by Professor Steve Tyerman, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Adelaide and TA EEA-CONICET Mendoza, Argentina investigated the relationship between hydraulic and stomatal conductance and its regulation by root and leaf aquaporins under water stress.

“A better understanding of these mechanisms is highly relevant to irrigation scheduling and to ensure sustainable vineyard management in a context of water scarcity” said Professor Tyerman.

“The DroughtSpotter platform allowed us to achieve precise control over soil moisture and vine water stress, which was the most critical aspect to the success of this project.”

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.

To read the DroughtSpotter pilot project reports:  “Drought Response in Low-Cyanogenic Sorghum bicolor Mutants”  and  “Investigating the relationship between hydraulic and stomatal conductance and its regulation by root and leaf aquaporins under progressive water stress and recovery, and exogenous application of ABA in grapevine”

Salt tolerant genetic loci in rice exposed

Rice is a staple food for over half of the world’s population. It is also the most salt-sensitive cereal crop, with losses in yield reaching up to 69%.

In a new study published in Nature Communications collaborators from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility investigated the early responses of rice plants to moderately-saline conditions and pinpointed new salt-tolerant genetic loci.

Project lead, Professor Mark Tester (KAUST), supervised PhD student Nadia Al-Tamini’s project which grew 297 indica and 256 aus rice varieties under low and high salinity. Using a technique called ‘high-throughput non-invasive phenotyping’ plants are moved on conveyor belts, imaged daily using digital cameras to monitor biomass and shoot development, and weighed to carefully measure transpiration levels (water use).

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Dr Bettina Berger (left) and Nadia Al-Tamimi (right) in The Plant Accelerator®

“The Plant Accelerator® allowed us to analyse numerous aspects of the growth of multiple plants simultaneously,” says Professor Tester.

Using the facility’s cutting-edge technology, the researchers were able to show some genes, for example those connected with signaling processes, were important to plant growth in the first two to six days after salt application, while other genes became prominent later.

“This is perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this work – we can now obtain genetic details daily, pinpointing exactly when each locus comes into play in response to salinity,” says Professor Tester.

The results of this study could prove useful for breeding programs seeking to address yield and stress resistance to meet the demand of our increasing global population and climate challenges.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this study!!

Find the full articlewww.nature.com/articles/ncomms13342

More on Nadia Al-Tamini’s story:  https://blog.plantphenomics.org.au/2015/02/24/saudi-arabian-students-joins-plant-accelerator-team-to-investigate-salinity-tolerance-in-rice/

Professor Mark Tester, Plant Science Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, mark.tester@kaust.edu.sa, www.kaust.edu.sa/en/study/faculty/mark-tester

Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director, The Plant Accelerator, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, University of Adelaide, www.plantphenomics.org.au, bettina.berger@adelaide.edu.au

Life is better with a “fun-gi”

Fungi colonise the roots of all cereal crops in a mutually beneficial association where the plant benefits from greater stress tolerance through improved water and mineral intake in exchange for carbohydrates for the fungi. The challenge in managing crop productivity and stress resilience is the unpredictability of plant growth responses when exposed to the fungi. It is possible to have too much or too little of a good thing! How do we get it right to avoid a detrimental impact on the plant and future crop production?

PhD student Rohan Riley, from Western Sydney University, is attempting to explain this unpredictability in terms of resource limitation by introducing fungal communities to plants which are isolated from soils containing high or low levels of salinity and analysing the effects on plant stress at the phenotypic level. He is undertaking his research at The Plant Accelerator® after being awarded a Postgraduate Student Internship Grant with the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) in 2015.

”Using daily phenotyping following the application of salt stress and controlled watering-to-weight in The Plant Accelerator® allowed for an unprecedented resolution and range of plant genetic changes in response to combinations of nutrient level, salinity and two different fungal communities that would not otherwise be achievable in a regular greenhouse,”says PhD student, Rohan Riley.

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”As a PhD student with limited experience in greenhouse experiments, the high controlled growth conditions, large-scale automation, digital imaging and software technology (high-throughput phenotyping) at The Plant Accelerator® provided me with the work-space, expertise and technical support to make a complicated experiment possible,”says Rohan.

The grain model Brachypodium distanchion was chosen to provide the greatest ease of knowledge transfer into many other crop plants with the view to developing future crops with greater resistance to environmental changes.

“It has been an amazing experience to conduct this experiment at The Plant Accelerator®. I am walking away from the facility with a big smile on my face, an incredible dataset for my PhD research and invaluable experience in greenhouse based plant research,’ says Rohan.

Thank you Rohan for being such a “fun guy” and a great addition to the team. It’s been a pleasure hosting you at The Plant Accelerator®!

Applications for the next round of APPF Postgraduate Student Internship Awards close on 30 November 2016.

To find out more about Rohan’s research:  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rohan_Riley

To find out more about Postgraduate Student Internship Grants, Scholarships and other programs at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility:  http://www.plantphenomics.org.au/education/