The University of Adelaide

Getting to the root of plant zinc health

Sunlight and water are two obvious requirements essential for healthy growth of plants, but did you know that zinc is also a vital ingredient? Zinc is a critical nutrient in hundreds of enzyme systems which are necessary for normal plant function. Zinc is also critical for human health – in fact, zinc is involved in more body functions than any other mineral.

Plants get zinc from the soil via their root systems. This uptake of nutrients is enhanced in many plants by mycorrhizal fungi which colonise the roots, creating a vast connection between the plant roots and the soil around them. Mycorrhizal fungi effectively increase the surface area of the roots, collecting nutrients from the soil beyond the reach of plant roots alone, and transfer these nutrients back to the plant.

Scientist, Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams, wants to find out how such mycorrhizal fungi can improve the zinc nutrition of plants, and subsequently impact on human health – particularly in countries where zinc malnutrition is a serious issue.

Read on here about Stephanie and her research at The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, and other Waite Research Precinct partners.

Discover more about Stephanie’s research here or find her on Twitter:  @myco_research

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Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams at The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility

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

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”