Next generation scientists to tackle plant problems

The newly launched ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture is cultivating the next crop of plant science experts.

Administered by The University of Queensland, the collaborative research initiative aims to develop tools to improve plant productivity and resiliency.

Deputy Centre Director (Research) Professor Mark Cooper said the next generation of plant scientists was urgently needed to tackle the growing threats of climate change and global food security.

“Agricultural industries are facing some ‘super wicked’ problems,” Professor Cooper said.

“The plant scientists of the future will have to consider sustainable solutions to help agricultural systems evolve and develop concepts for biodiversity and regenerating the environment.

Centre Director Professor Christine Beveridge said scientists will also have to work in multidisciplinary teams to research and tap into opportunities.

“Problems like global food security are so huge that you need people like mathematicians, applying maths as a common language to transfer the biology across to the plant breeders,” Professor Beveridge said.

“We’re trying to answer the whole problem, not just a little part of it, and this is where the Centre comes in.”

Professor Beveridge said Dr Maddie James and PhD candidate Samuel Barton are two young researchers who embodied the spirit of the Centre for Plant Success.

Dr James is a Postdoctoral researcher and recent SSE President’s Award winner investigating how plants adapt to harsh environmental conditions.

She said the growing global population, changing climate and decline in arable land called for strategies to feed the world in a more sustainable fashion.

“The research we’re undertaking will help develop ways to increase plant yield and survival across diverse environments,” Dr James said.

“For instance, generating new plant varieties that are more resilient to heat and drought stress.”

PhD candidate Samuel Barton is applying mathematical ideas and methods to plant genetics.

His work, across both mathematics and biology, is set to play a vital role in predicting and improving plant performance.

“Experts from various disciplines are all striving towards a shared goal of improved environmental sustainability,” Mr Barton said.

“The Centre for Plant Success brings them together to identify breakthrough opportunities and tackle the difficult research problems we’re facing.”

The Centre is a partnership with The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, The University of Tasmania, Western Sydney University and Monash University.

More images and video here.

Image above left: Professor Mark Cooper and Professor Christine Beveridge inspect a sorghum field.

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