Centre News & Highlights...

Add to RSS
Xenopus laevis

Hopping genes provide clue to frog's origin

>>Press Release: 20 October, 2016<<

An international team of researchers have decoded the genetic sequence of the African clawed frog, an important model system for cell and developmental biology, and immunology.

The study, published today in the journal Nature, showed that this peculiar animal arose from an ancient hybridisation event that combined the genomes of two different frog species 18 million years.

The researchers were able to investigate the hybridisation event by looking at special “jumping” genes, called transposons, which are located within the genomes. The study revealed that the frog, scientifically named Xenopus laevis, arose from interspecific hybridization – the mating of two species from within the same genus. The result is a “duplicated” genome, whereby the frog carries genetic material from two species.

Interestingly, certain portions of the “duplicated” genome appear to be evolving at different rates.

continue reading...

Australian researchers Dr Ozren Bogdanovic and Professor Ryan Lister from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research at the University of Western Australia collaborated on the international project.

"Genome duplication is a really important event in evolution, because it generates extra copies of all the genes and control sequences in the genome." Professor Lister said.

"Through mutation of these extra copies, new molecular activities or patterns of gene use in the organism can arise, creating new functions that are important for evolutionary diversification."

The two Australian researchers contributed to the project by mapping the frog's epigenome

"We mapped the precise genomic locations of an important biochemical signal, called DNA methylation, in the frog genome" said Dr. Bogdanovic.

"DNA methylation can be thought of as tiny chemical signposts that cells add to their genome. It has the ability to switch genes "on" and "off" during embryo development and disease formation"

The study shows that DNA methylation played one of the most important roles in fine-tuning the levels of gene products making sure that proteins are produced at the correct levels despite the duplication of the genome sequence.

"This is a very important step towards our understanding of how genomes evolve and how genetics and epigenetics shape life on earth." Dr. Bogdanovic said.

"The work also emphasises the importance of international collaboration and basic research on more "exotic" model organisms such as frogs or fish, as compared to mice and rats".

The international collaboration included researchers from the United States, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, and Switzerland, and was led by Daniel Rokhsar and Richard Harland of the University of California, Berkeley, and Masanori Taira of the University of Tokyo.

Media References:

  • Ozren Bogdanovic (UWA, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) +61 8 6488 3258, +61 0414 159 001
  • Ryan Lister (UWA, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) +61 8 6488 4407, +61 0448 375 394
Old versus new

Unravelling the role of plant growth protein could provide clues for human health

>>Press Release: 11th October 2016<<

The discovery of how an evolutionarily-conserved protein controls plant aging and growth could have important implications for agriculture as well as human health.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia have found that, in plants, the protein Lon1 controls how other proteins age and are replaced.

"It appears that Lon1 acts by cutting up old proteins and ensuring their removal to make way for new proteins needed in the mitochondria. This is the area of a cell which generates energy for growth" said Dr Lei Li, lead researcher for the study.

continue reading...

Using a novel technique that allows the age of proteins to be measured, the researchers were able to determine the role of Lon1 in plants in controlling the turn-over of proteins in the mitochondria.

They found that Lon1 is critical for plants to reach their normal size. The build-up of old proteins, which occurs when Lon1 is not performing correctly, acts to limit plant growth.

"Plants lacking in a functional Lon1 protein struggle to grow" said Dr Li.

This understanding of how Lon1 protein works could be used to improve the overall efficiency of crop plant growth for agriculture.

In humans, malfunctioning Lon1 is known to lead to cancer and diseases associated with aging.

"The novel approach we applied in plants, to look at proteins that age when Lon1 is damaged, could be used to study human diseases linked to Lon1 in the future" said Dr Shaobai Huang, senior author of the published work.

Information about how Lon1 functions could help to address how abnormal versions of the protein lead to human disease.

The study is published in The Plant Journal

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Breakthrough discovery for salinity-tolerance in plants

>>Press Release: 20th September 2016<<

Researchers have made a breakthrough in investigating salt tolerance in plants which could lead to new salt tolerant varieties of crops, and also answer unresolved questions in plant biology.

The researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's University of Adelaide node, in collaboration with the University's School of Medicine, have discovered that a protein known to control salt balance in animals works the same way in plants.

The research, published in the journal Plant Cell and Environment, found that in plants, as in animals, a group of proteins, a type of 'aquaporin', can transport salt ions as well as water.

Aquaporins have long been known to act as pores by transporting water across membranes in plants and animals, and they play critical roles in controlling the water content of cells. But, until now, it was not known they could do the same with sodium ions (salt).

continue reading...

"In animals, aquaporins are extremely important in water filtration in the kidney," says project leader Professor Steve Tyerman. "In plants they can do the same thing – filter the water that goes through the plant. But under certain conditions some aquaporins can also let sodium ions through.

"This may explain a lot of unsolved problems in plant biology, for instance how salt gets into the plants in the first place."

The researchers believe these "double-barrelled" aquaporins may be the elusive proteins that let sodium ions -the toxic component of salt- in and out of plant roots. Since the early 1990s researchers have known that salt enters plant roots in saline conditions via pores in the membrane, but the identity of these pores has remained a mystery. This particular aquaporin is abundant on the surface of roots.

“We discovered that it has characteristics similar to the properties previously identified for the pores responsible for sodium ion transport," says co-lead author Dr Caitlin Byrt, Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine. "This finding opens new possibilities for modifying how plants respond to high salt and low water conditions."

The researchers say that this discovery will help them target ways of blocking the pathway of salt into plants. And plant breeders may be able to select varieties which have differences in the aquaporin protein.

There are also exciting implications for understanding how plants function. The discovery will help plant scientists dissect the role these “double barreled” aquaporins play in how roots respond to osmotic shock and salt stress, how long distance water transport in plants occurs, and how leaves control the entry of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.

Media References:

  • Caitlin Byrt (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, University of Adelaide) +61 8 8313 6652
  • Steve Tyerman (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, University of Adelaide) +61 8 8313 6663
Aussie plant life

Future heat-waves a threat to australian plant life

>>Press Release: 12th September, 2016<<

It may not feel like it in Australia right now, but over the past year we've experienced the hottest global temperatures on instrumental record. This could spell bad news for Australia's plants.

A study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, has found that across much of inland Australia plants are near a tipping point in their ability to cope with rising high-temperature extremes. This suggests that future heat-waves could have devastating effects on Australia's flora.

"We surveyed plant life around the globe for their high-temperature tolerance," said Professor Owen Atkin of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the Australian National University, who led the study.

continue reading...

"We show that, while heat tolerance is higher in plants near the equator than in the arctic, the potential for damage is most severe for hot, inland, mid-latitude regions. Here, maximum air temperatures during heat-waves are most extreme".

"Plants growing in the dry, inner regions of Australia are at particularly high risk. We could see dramatic changes to the face of Aussie plant life in the future".

The international team of researchers looked at plants from habitats all over the world, including nineteen remote sites in the arctic, tropics and deserts. The study is the most comprehensive analysis of heat tolerance in plants to date.

By exposing leaves to increasing temperatures during controlled tests, the researchers were able to pinpoint the exact temperatures where leaf metabolism becomes damaged by heat. They found that two critical processes for plant growth and survival, namely photosynthesis and leaf respiration, were damaged by high-temperature extremes.

"The study suggests high temperatures during heat waves will damage a plant's ability to function, particularly in sun-exposed, upper canopy leaves" said lead author Dr Odhran O'Sullivan.

"This means extreme heat-wave events, predicted to increase in intensity with climate change, could have devastating effects on natural plant populations and ecosystems in the long term".

Co-author Professor Mark Tjoelker of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University said “the potential for high-temperature heat-damage is greatest during periods of drought, when plants are unable to use water to naturally cool leaves".

The findings of the study also have important implications for farmers growing crops in hot, inland regions of Australia.

"We know that crop yields are negatively affected by heat-waves, often when crops are flowering. Our results point towards heat damage to leaves being a further factor contributing to reduced crop yields. The potential for such damage will only increase as global temperatures rise" said Prof. Atkin.

"Because heat-waves are becoming more extreme and frequent, there is an urgent need to improve heat tolerance of leaf metabolism in crops, such as wheat, that are often grown in hot, arid regions".

With funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) in Australia, researchers are now using the results of the study to identify wheat varieties capable of better handling heat stress.

The study was performed by an international collaboration of researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at ANU, Western Sydney University, and several leading institutions in the USA, UK, Sweden and New Zealand.

Media References:

  • Owen Atkin (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, ANU) +61 2 6125 5046

An open letter to the Prime Minister on the climate crisis

Plant Energy Biologists have joined over 150 Australian scientists in penning a letter urging the Australian Prime Minister to tackle the root causes of climate change.

The letter was published in The Conversation this week.


The Virtual Plant Cell is almost here!

>>Press Release: 4th August, 2016<<

Plant Energy Biology is set to take people on an educational journey through a plant cell - using virtual reality technology.

The Centre will launch the Virtual Plant Cell (VPC), a unique virtual reality experience that lets its audience explore the microscopic inner world of a plant.

VPC allows users to interact with the plant cell and learn about the complex processes that scientists study, in a novel and engaging way.

continue reading...

"With 2016 set to be the year that virtual reality truly takes off as a mainstream technology we've decided to take full advantage of the opportunity to take the public to places where they can’t normally go, like the inside of a cell" said Karina Price, Science Communications Officer for Plant Energy Biology, who is leading the project.

"With VPC a user can move across the inside surface of a plant cell membrane. They can peer into a chloroplast or watch as DNA swirls overhead in the nucleus. They can even help the plant survive challenges faced in its environment by controlling what happens in the cell".

The project is drawing on the expertise of Plant Energy Biology scientists and on the Centre’s research.

"The world needs to dramatically increase its food production for the future. Our research aims to better understand how plants create and use energy, in order to improve them for agriculture. We want the community to understand how we do this, and why."

"VR provides an incredible way to showcase our science".

"Understanding complicated cell biology becomes simple when you can see first-hand what goes on inside of a cell. Users gain a better understanding when they have been immersed in that world".

VPC will serve as an exciting background for educating the community and creating a dialogue about plant energy biology research. The Centre hopes to secure the funding needed to continue VPC development to create an educational resource for teaching biology in schools.

"We're building something that is visually appealing, engaging and exciting, and that is scientifically sound" said Miss Price.

"We're passionate about educating the community and highlighting the importance of plant research. What better way to do this than immersing people in our world?”

The VPC project has drawn on the skills of Western Australian artist Peter Ryan, and award winning Unity Developer Richard England (Reflex Arc).

"Plant Energy Biology are ahead of the curve here" said Dominic Manley, from Augmented and Virtual Reality Labs (AVRL), who has led the technical management of the project.

"Virtual reality is forecasted to be a significant disruptive force in academia and other sectors over the coming years. Organisations that are already exploring the potential of VR are building the knowledge and experience required to adapt and create the exciting and progressive tools and experiences of the future".

Plant Energy Biology has had previous success with immersive education using the world's largest inflatable plant cell, the Bio-Bounce, and a full-dome movie called Plantarium. These novel resources engage audiences in plant science in exciting ways.

The Centre will publically reveal the first of its VPC VR experiences during National Science Week 2016.

See Facebook for details.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Plant Energy Biology enters the virtual world

>>Press Release: 30 July 2016<<

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is embracing virtual reality technologies to give novel insight into the world of its research.

"We marvel at our science every day" said Plant Energy Biology's Science Communications Officer, Karina Price. "We’ve recognised that virtual reality offers a unique opportunity for us to show our science to the world".

The Centre has started creating a number of virtual reality experiences, including one where the user finds themself exploring the inside of a plant cell.

continue reading...

"With 2016 set to be the year that virtual reality truly takes off as a mainstream technology we've decided to take full advantage" said Miss Price.

"We'll use VR to take people to places that excite us, but that the public can't normally go. Places like the inside of a plant cell or our laboratory spaces".

The exciting Virtual Plant Cell project will allow users to interact with a plant cell and learn about the processes that plant biologists study. 360 degree videos will allow audiences to see into Plant Energy Biology research spaces.

"We created a prototype plant cell experience earlier this year and showed it to high school students" said Miss Price.

"The response was great! The students felt that they understood better when they were immersed".

"On the back of this positive response we've decided to put our energy into custom-building new and exceptional VR experiences."

"Understanding complicated cell biology becomes simple when you can see first-hand what goes on inside of a cell. In the same way learning what a biologist does inside of a laboratory becomes automatic when you can stand 'alongside' one in a lab".

"We have even begun using VR technology for our research".

Researchers at Plant Energy Biology's Australian National University node created EcoVR; The Virtual Reality Ecosystem Data Viewer, which overlays complex environmental data on a landscape. EcoVR provides a novel way for researchers to view and organise complicated data.

Plant Energy Biology's research aims to improve how plants, particularly crop plants, make and manage their energy in order to more efficiently grow and produce yield. The Centre runs an extensive education and outreach program to link the community to plant energy research.

"We're passionate about educating the community and highlighting the importance of plant research. What better way to do this than immersing people in our world?" said Miss Price.

The Centre has had previous success with immersive education using the world’s largest inflatable plant cell, the Bio-Bounce, and a full-dome movie called Plantarium. These novel resources engage audiences in plant science in exciting ways.

The Centre will publically reveal the first of its VR experiences during National Science Week in August.

Stay tuned!

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Mabbitt and Chan

Working towards drought-proof crops

>>Press Release: 28 July 2016<<

Researchers have found how plants, such as rice and wheat, sense and respond to extreme drought stress, in a breakthrough that could lead to the development of next-generation drought-proof crops.

Lead researcher Dr Kai Xun Chan from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology’s Australian National University node said the team discovered an enzyme that senses adverse drought and sunlight conditions, and how it works from atomic to overall plant levels.

"The sensor in plant leaves is constantly sensing the state of its environment in terms of water and light levels," Dr Chan said.

continue reading...

"The sensor is able to sense when conditions become unfavourable, such as during extreme drought stress, by changing itself into a form with altered shape and activity.

"This sets off a 'fire alarm' in the plant, telling it to respond to drought by making beneficial chemical compounds, for instance. But in the field, this can occur too late and the plant would have suffered damage already.

"If we can get the alarm to go off at the first signs of water deficit, we can help the plant survive severe droughts."

More drought-tolerant crops are crucial to helping ensure global food security and can reduce the impact of drought on the national economy. A 2015 Climate Council report found that the Australian GDP fell one per cent due to drought and lower agricultural production in 2002 and 2003.

Drought normally hits wheat at the flowering and seed stage, which is critical in determining the size of a crop's harvest.

By activating the sensor alarm faster during a dry season, the plant can activate counter-measures in its leaves to prevent unnecessary water loss and ensure that the plant survives until the next rainfall.

"We're really excited about the potential applications of this research, which range from genetic modifications and plant breeding to the development of a chemical spray that directly targets this sensor to set off the alarm in plants," Dr Chan said.

"This could save crops and ensure they produce bigger yields. The chemical spray would provide an innovative way to reduce the impact of drought stress."

Work by Dr Peter Mabbitt and Associate Professor Colin Jackson from the ANU Research School of Chemistry, using X-ray facilities at the Australian Synchrotron, enabled the team to create a 3D model of the sensor enzyme.

Dr Chan said they will use this model and a computer program to identify candidate chemical compounds that match well with the enzyme's structure.

"This work will be a matter of fitting in a piece of the puzzle," Dr Chan said.

"Within two years, we hope to identify potential compounds for a chemical spray which will rescue crop yields. We would then need to perfect a compound in consultation with farmers and other industry players.

"We have already received funding from ANU Connect Ventures Discovery Translational Fund for this follow-up project."

The study was supported by funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and involved Australian and international collaborations with the University of Western Australia, University of Birmingham and University of Cologne.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Media References:

  • Kai Chan (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, ANU Research School of Biology) +61 2 6125 7702
Water droplet

Plants are ‘in touch’ with the world around them

>>Press Release: 24th May 2016<<

The simple act of water droplets landing on a leaf causes an elaborate response inside of plants, scientists have found.

A similar reaction is seen when plants are patted or touched, suggesting that they are highly aware of what is happening to them. The study, published in the journal Plant Physiology, suggests that this touch response may prepare a plant to defend itself from danger or take advantage of changes in the weather.

"While nothing visibly happens to plants when they are touched, their 'touch response' launches a cascade of signals inside leaves that prepare them for the future" said lead researcher for the study, Dr Olivier Van Aken from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia.

continue reading...

A change in the expression of thousands of plant genes was initially observed by researchers when plants were sprayed with water. The dramatic response occurred within only minutes of spraying and stopped in half an hour.

"We were able to show that this response was not caused by any active compounds in the spray but rather by the physical contact caused by water drops landing on the leaf surface," said Dr Van Aken.

Curious, the researchers examined what else could trigger such a response in plants. They found the results could also be produced by gently patting the plants by hand or by touching them with tweezers. A similar response is also triggered by a sudden shadow falling over the plant, limiting their supply of light.

"Unlike animals, plants are unable to run away from harmful conditions. Instead, plants appear to have developed intricate stress defence systems to sense their environment and help them detect danger and respond appropriately," said Dr Van Aken.

"Similar reactions can be triggered by rain drops falling, the wind blowing, an insect moving across a leaf or even by clouds casting a shadow over a plant".

"Although people generally assume plants don’t feel when they are being touched, this shows that they are actually very sensitive to it and can redirect gene expression, defence and potentially their metabolism because of it".

The study also identified two proteins, AtWRKY15 and AtWRKY40, which help to switch off the plant touch response.

"Switching off the response signal is very important. It allows plants to get on with life as normal, forgetting about the signal and treating it as a false alarm" said Dr Van Aken.

"The findings may cause us to think differently about our interactions with the plants around us. While plants don’t appear to complain when we pinch off a flower, step on them or just brush by them while going for a walk, they are fully aware of this contact and are rapidly responding to our treatment of them".

Media References:

Root small

Plant root tip an epigenetic mixed bag

>>Press Release: 2nd May 2016<<

The seemingly simple tip of a plant root is packed with epigenetic diversity, a study by ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology researchers and their colleagues has revealed.

The root tip is made up of pockets of different, specialised cells. On top of the genetic code sits another code, the epigenome, which can direct which genes are switched on and off.

PEB researchers Tim Stuart and Professor Ryan Lister at the University of Western Australia, together with scientists from around the globe examined the differences in DNA methylation, a type of epigenetic tag, between root cell types.

continue reading...

While epigenetic patterns across different plant organs and tissues have previously been studied, this is the first finding of differences in DNA methylation between cell types from the same somatic tissue.

Columella cells, a specialised gravity-sensing cell, were found to be the most epigenetically effected of the six cell types studied.

"The findings will help researchers understand root development, crucial for improving nutrient use and plant growth" said Mr Stuart, co-lead author on the study and a PhD student at the Centre.

The study was published in Nature Plants this week

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Global patterns revealed by comprehensive survey of plant respiration responses to temperature

>>Press Release: 22nd March, 2016<<

Plants from all over the globe respond to temperature changes in remarkably similar ways, researchers have found. The finding has important implications for climate modelling.

The research, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the most comprehensive study of plant respiration responses to temperature ever conducted.

Plants from habitats all over the world were examined by an international team of researchers. Despite the diversity in the plant types surveyed the results point to striking similarities in how different plants alter their respiration rate in response to increasing temperature.

Cellular respiration is the set of metabolic reactions used by plants to make usable energy for growth and cell maintenance. Plants release carbon dioxide during cellular respiration as a by-product of converting sugars into energy.

continue reading...

Researchers measured the respiration rates of vegetation at eighteen remote sites around the world which represented seven different types of plant habitat. They found that the sensitivity of respiration to temperature decreases as plants warm.

"We looked at a wide range of plants growing in contrasting environments, from the arid woodlands of Western Australia, to the deciduous forests of New York, the arctic tundra in Alaska, the boreal forests of Sweden and the tropical forests of Costa Rica and Peru" said Professor Owen Atkin, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the Australian National University (ANU), who led the study.

"We found that there were predictable patterns of respiration across the globe.

"We saw that in the cold, respiration is more sensitive to temperature than previously thought and that the sensitivity of respiration declines at higher temperatures. Amazingly, these patterns were remarkably uniform across all the habitats and plant types studied."

The finding points to universally conserved controls of temperature responsiveness across the world's plant life.

The patterns revealed by the study are important for climate modelling as they differ from a previous assumption that the temperature sensitivity of plant respiration is constant as leaves heat up.

"Currently, climate models assume that respiration doubles for each 10°C rise in temperature" said co-author Professor Mark Tjoelker of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University.

The reality that, across multiple plant species, respiration is more temperature sensitive that previously assumed and becomes less sensitive as the temperature rises is valuable information for creating accurate climate models.

Plant respiration is a major contributor of carbon to the atmosphere and plays a key role in the global carbon cycle. Climate models are routinely used to predict how warm the Earth will be later this century. Central to this is the prediction of carbon flows between plants and the atmosphere.

"The findings of this study have important consequences for estimating carbon storage in vegetation, and for predicting concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and future surface temperatures" said lead author, Dr Mary Heskel, now based at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, USA.

"Using this information models can now far more accurately predict carbon-exchange in ecosystems"

The work was performed by an international collaboration of researchers, including the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at ANU, Western Sydney University, and several leading institutions in the USA, UK, Sweden and New Zealand.

Media References:

  • Owen Atkin (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, ANU) +61 2 6125 5046
Oz and Ryan

Gene switch makes us look like our animal cousins

>>Press Release: 1st March 2016<<

An international team of biologists has discovered how the same genes are turned on in mammals, fish and amphibians early in embryonic development, making them look incredibly similar for a brief period of time.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Western Australia and published today in Nature Genetics, sheds light on why all vertebrate animals (those with a backbone) look alike during a particular phase of embryo development known as the phylotypic stage.

During this time, embryos of birds, fish and even humans start to look the same - before they diverge again and become very different looking animals.

continue reading...

The similarity was first described by pre-eminent nineteenth century embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer, when his sloppy sample labelling led him to accidentally mix up phylotypic stage embryos of different vertebrate species and he was unable to tell which embryo belonged to which species.

"We couldn’t bear to make that mistake," ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology genome biologist Ryan Lister said.

"So we looked at mice from Madrid, fish from Seville, and toads from Nijmegen."

The study was a close collaboration with researchers at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC Spain) and Radboud University in the Netherlands.

Lead author Ozren Bogdanovic, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, said the study shows how chemical signposts change in the DNA of mice, zebrafish and toads during the phylotypic stage.

The change in these signposts happens in a wave and activates the same developmental pathways in each animal, contributing to their similarity.

Dr Bogdanovic said the time taken to reach the phylotypic stage varies between species.

"In fish and toads it would be at one to two days after fertilisation, and at 9.5 days in mice, while humans go through the phylotypic stage about four weeks after conception," he said.

"It’s likely that we also have a similar type of epigenetic control in our development during that period.

"If you were to put a human embryo next to a fish, a toad and a mouse at that stage, the human embryo would look very much like the others."

Professor Lister said it is thought that vertebrates show such similarity during this developmental period because that is when the fundamental structure of the body is being set up.

"Correct establishment of the body plan and organ formation at that early stage is so critical to life that the molecular processes underlying it have remained very similar despite millions of years of divergence between these species," he said.

"It's fascinating to see these similarities right down to the molecular level, and we can do so only because of recent technological advances in DNA sequencing that give us the power to dig much deeper into biological systems than ever before."

Professor Lister noted that some critical experimental techniques the team used to study vertebrate embryogenesis were first developed through his earlier plant genomics research, demonstrating how advances in one scientific field and system can rapidly be embraced to make advances in another.

"This is basic research into how normal development takes place in a mouse, a fish and a toad," he said.

"But through this we also open a window onto the processes that likely occur during human embryo development.

"Although when I described this work to my son he remarked that he wasn't surprised that I once closely resembled a toad."

Media References:

  • Ozren Bogdanovic (UWA, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) +61 8 6488 3258, +61 0414 159 001
  • Ryan Lister (UWA, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) +61 8 6488 4407, +61 0448 375 394

Australia and the 'genomics revolution'. From little things, big things could grow

We have heard about the government's 'Ideas Boom', but how about making ideas 'bloom'? Australia could reap the rewards of an agricultural and environmental 'genomics revolution'.

Plant Energy Biology-supported PhD Candidate John Rivers explains in an article released in the Asia and the Pacific Policy Society's magazine, 'Policy Forum'.

Read here.

Ciprofloxacin kills plants

Common antibiotic inspires hunt for new herbicide

>>Press Release: 12th February 2016<<

Plant biologists at The University of Western Australia have discovered that the commonly used antibiotic ciprofloxacin, which kills bacteria, also kills plants by blocking their DNA copying machinery.

The research, which was published today in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, was a collaboration between UWA researchers and Professor Tony Maxwell from the John Innes Centre in the UK.

The work at UWA was carried out by graduate research assistant Julie Leroux and Dr Joshua Mylne, a Future Fellow in UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and affiliated to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

continue reading...

Dr Mylne said the researchers found a plant that could grow on ciprofloxacin and by working out which gene mutation enabled this, could prove how the antibiotic killed plants.

"This could be the starting point for making a completely new herbicide," he said.

"The DNA copying machinery in plants and microbes have similarities, but also differences that could be exploited.

"The machinery that ciprofloxacin affects is not currently targeted by known herbicides, making this an untried mode of action to focus on."

Dr Mylne said the UWA research team's contribution was to provide the plant proof that the mutated gene was responsible for its ability to grow on ciprofloxacin.

This work built on prior knowledge from Professor Maxwell's lab that the enzyme DNA gyrase (part of the DNA copying machinery) is made in plants and is essential in plant growth and development.

By generating mutations in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and finding one plant that is resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin and analysing its genome, the team confirmed that DNA gyrase in plants can be targeted effectively by this antibiotic.

"We envision changing ciprofloxacin in ways that will stop it from being an antibiotic, while improving its suitability as a herbicide," Dr Mylne said.

Media References:

  • Joshua S. Mylne ARC Future Fellow (UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 4415

CropPAL, Bringing Valuable Data to Light for Global Crop Research

>>Press Release: January 2016<<

A new database of valuable protein information for economically important crop plants will be a significant resource for crop improvement and global food security.

CropPAL is a new catalogue of location information about barley, wheat, rice and maize proteins which has arisen out of global research.

Proteins represent the building blocks of all living cells. In order to improve crop plants to cope with rising temperatures, drought, flooding and salinity, protein function and location must be known.

continue reading...

A greater understanding of proteins in crop plants will enable more targeted breeding of crop species in the future.

As an open access research tool where protein location information is collated, cropPAL is a valuable asset to assist plant researchers, biotechnology companies and the crop breeding industry.

"A lot of research data is scattered, and remains under explored," says Dr Cornelia Hooper, lead researcher on the project from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia.

"Pulling all this data together into a single database makes for a very powerful research tool."

The resource will accelerate solutions that address challenges such as drought, salinity and nitrogen starvation in major global crops.

"We found that there is huge amounts of beneficial data already available to improve crops for future harsh environments, it had just never been put together to reveal its potential" says Professor Harvey Millar, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at UWA where the project is being undertaken.

"What cropPal does is connect researchers, industry and entrepreneurs with this information about proteins in crops from around the world. In some sense it will be a pal, a help, to people who want to know more and innovate using this shared knowledge".

The project is funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS). ANDS aims to improve visibility, access and re-use of valuable research data as part of a global open-access data movement in science.

CropPAL has transformed unstructured information and thousands of new computer predictions of protein locations from hundreds of research studies generated over the last 10 years by over 300 research institutions around the world into an Australian-housed central research open-access data collection for efficient use and discovery.

The project has a bright future with plans to expand the crop collection in 2016 to include seven additional species, including grape, sorghum and canola.

A detailed overview of cropPAL features in the annual Databases Special Issue of the journal Plant and Cell Physiology released last week.

A video about the project can also be viewed.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Mark Waters

New ARC Future Fellow to investigate ways to improve crop productivity

>>Press Release: December 2015<<

Dr Mark Waters has been awarded a 2015 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.

Dr Waters, an affiliate researcher of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, at the University of Western Australia will investigate a plant chemical signalling pathway with the capacity to increase plant performance.

Working within the UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, over the next four years Dr Waters aims to identify unknown signalling compounds that work through a recently identified hormone signalling system in plants.

"My research builds on a particularly Australian story in which UWA scientists discovered the compounds in smoke that stimulate seed germination after a bushfire," Dr Waters said.

continue reading...

"Now we know that these compounds affect plant growth and development in quite profound ways, and I want to extend this knowledge to enhance the productivity of the plants we grow for food."

The project also plans to exploit this pathway to find inhibitors of premature seed germination that afflict crops such as wheat and barley. The intended outcomes are a better understanding of how plants grow and new strategies for boosting plant performance in the field.

Specific potential applications of Dr Waters' work include reducing plant water use, regulating seed germination, and encouraging early seedling establishment.

Earlier this year, Dr Waters was awarded the prestigious Goldacre award by the Australian Society of Plant Scientists. Nationally he is the only 2015 recipient of a Future Fellowship working in the field of plant biology.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Knowledge Nation 100

Plant Energy Biologist a Knowledge Nation 100 rock star

>>Press Release: December 2015<<

Plant Energy Biology researcher Professor Ryan Lister has been named one of the Knowledge Nation 100.

The Knowledge Nation 100 are described as “rock stars of Australia's new economy - the visionaries, intellects, founders and game changers building the industries and institutions that will underwrite the nation’s future prosperity".

The list was compiled by the Knowledge Society and the Australian Office of the Chief Scientist.

continue reading...

Prof. Ryan Lister is a Chief Investigator at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. He researches epigenomes, which play central roles in the growth of plants, animals and human.

Prof. Lister's work sheds light on the essential building blocks of life and may help engineer drought-resistant crops or prevent disease.

Last year Prof. Lister was named the Life Scientist of the Year at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

The Knowledge Nation 100 were announced last week by the Office of the Chief Scientist.

"Countries become what they celebrate. If Australia is to become a knowledge-rich society, it must celebrate the people who create and apply knowledge - the people building our knowledge economy."

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Sandra Tanz and Simon Carroll

Plant Energy Biology Scientist Named a WA Tall Poppy

>>Press Release: December 2015<<

Plant scientist Dr Sandra Tanz has been named a 2015 Western Australian Tall Poppy in recognition of her research into photosynthesis and her related community science engagement.

The prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science award recognises Dr Tanz' work at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia into the photosynthesis of high performance C4 plants.

As global populations rise there is a need to dramatically increase food production, and to do so in the face of increasingly dry and arid agricultural lands. Dr Tanz' work has the potential to improve the productivity of crop plants when grown under such poor conditions.

continue reading...

C4 plants have adapted to thrive in hot and dry environments. However, many significant global food crops such as rice and wheat are of the C3 photosynthetic variety. Dr Tanz' research could lead to photosynthetic traits from C4 plants being used to improve C3 crops, significantly boosting yields from staple food crops around the globe.

"By investigating the photosynthetic mechanisms that exist in known high performing C4 plants, my ambition is to make the knowledge available for application in food crops grown in adverse climates, and thereby contribute to feeding an increasing world population" Dr Tanz said.

Dr Tanz has been proactive in communicating her research and related science through outreach activity. She has contributed to the Australian National Youth Science Forum and to UWA's Science Experience workshops for high school students for a number of years. She has also been actively involved in outreach and public awareness projects with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

The Tall Poppy Campaign of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) aims to recognise the achievements of outstanding young Australian scientific researchers and communicators. The award winners participate in an education and community outreach program in the year following their award, and become role models to inspire school students and the broader community about the possibilities of science.

"Receiving the Young Tall Poppy Award is very exciting" says Dr Tanz. "I look forward to being involved in future outreach programs and teaching students the importance of science".

The WA Tall Poppy awards were presented by Simon Carroll, chair of the Tall Poppy Award judging panel, at Curtin University last week.

The chair of AIPS, Professor Rick McLean, said "these winners reflect the important, life changing research being carried out that will ultimately affect all of us. Their passion for communicating their work means many more will hear about the fantastic work being carried out right here in Australia".

Media References:

  • Sandra Tanz (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, UWA) +61 8 6488 3258, sandra.tanz@uwa.edu.au
  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

PEB helping in the East African fight against crop devastating plagues

>>Press Release: 26 November 2015. Author: Lara Silbert<<

A Rwandan Biosecurity Fellow's visit to Australia will help in bringing much needed skills to African scientists to fight insect plagues threatening Africa's food security.

Mr James Mushayija, a plant quarantine specialist from Rwanda, is being trained during a visit to Australia by biosecurity expert and TED Fellow Dr Laura Boykin. Dr Boykin's research at UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology has the potential to end African crop plagues spread by the Cassava Whitefly.

continue reading...

Whitefly plagues can destroy entire cassava crops that millions of East African farmers and their families rely on as a primary food source. The devastation caused by the whitefly leaves many Africans with little to eat.

Mr Mushayija is one of fifteen African Plant Biosecurity Senior Fellows visiting Australia for three weeks under the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre's Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership (AAPBP). The Partnership is an Australian Government initiative aimed at strengthening the plant biosecurity capacity of Sub-Saharan African countries through expertise at Australian host organisations. Mr Mushayija says that the skills he learns at UWA "will be invaluable to Rwanda, and to East Africa".

"So many African people are in desperate need because of the destruction the whitefly causes," said Mr Mushayija. "Being able to win this fight means that they will have enough to eat, better economic prospects and more opportunities for their children".

Australia is an ideal location to study biosecurity and can provide the visiting Fellows with skills not currently established in Africa. While in Australia the Fellows will train under some of the world's leading experts.

"African farmers have so much potential, but they need a helping hand. Our farmers are the backbone of our economy and our society, and I am very happy that UWA and the Australians are helping to make us stronger" says Mr Mushayija.

Mr Mushayija hopes to improve Rwanda's biosecurity capacity with practical diagnostic methods based on the cutting-edge principles and techniques he learns in Australia for the analysis of pests and diseases.

The AAPBP presents an opportunity for Fellows to network and share the knowledge and skills gained through the Partnership. The Fellows will "pay it forward" by teaching the skills they learn to others in their country and elsewhere in Africa, potentially creating many more experts in their specific field.

While at UWA Mr Mushayija is gaining skills in molecular diagnostics and analysis for the identification of pests, which he will use to train a team of researchers in Rwanda.

The capacity to identify new species of whitefly will mean that distribution of cassava seeds resistant to the correct species of whitefly throughout areas of East Africa can be ensured. Diagnostic techniques will allow early identification and reporting of pests of concern by African farmers, with methods being transferable to different pest insects, thus helping to improve food security in East Africa on an ongoing basis.

Mr Mushayija says he has been "impressed by the advanced biosecurity processes in place in Australia, such as sniffer dogs at the airport detecting plant products entering Australia". He believes that many of the processes used to keep Australia biologically safe could be adopted to great effect in Africa.

Mr Mushayija role at Rwanda's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources includes inspection and certification of imported and exported agricultural commodities, conducting monitoring surveys to update a national pest list, and enforcement of Rwanda's plant health law and regulations.

He says that he admires "how Australia fosters close connections with its agricultural community, and the priority that is put on ensuring their livelihoods".

Mr Mushayija will be returning to Rwanda on 5 December 2015.

"I look forward to putting into practice what I learn through my research at UWA and time in Australia," he says.

Media References:

  • Laura Boykin (Research Fellow, UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) Laura.Boykin@uwa.edu.au, +61 8 6488 4488
  • James Mushayija (Plant Biosecurity Senior Fellow, PBCRC AAPBP) mushayijaj30@gmail.com, +61 4 484 926 203
Stefanie Wege

Australian Research Council funding for Plant Energy Biology researchers

>>Press Release: November 2015<<

A number of researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have been awarded 2016 Australian Research Council Major Grants.

Dr Stefanie Wege (The University of Adelaide) and Dr Reena Narsai (La Trobe University) are recipients of 2016 Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs). PEB investigators on funded Discovery Projects are Dr Olivier Van Aken, Professor Harvey Millar, Dr Joshua Mylne and Dr Mark Waters. Professor Ian Small will be a collaborator on a successfully funded Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) project. Mr Sam Buckberry has been awarded a National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC)-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship.

continue reading...

Under DECRA funding Dr Wege aims to discover novel components that control how plants acquire and manage chloride, an ion that commonly causes salt stress and is a major threat to Australia's agriculture.

"Understanding plant chloride management will inform strategies to create better crops, and will help to improve fertiliser use and crop yields" she says.

DECRA recipient Dr Narsai will work towards a better understanding of seed germination. This will be useful for the production of cereal seeds with better rates of germination for agriculture. The project aims to combine the latest technologies and molecular approaches with genetics to understand how mitochondria control seed germination and germination rates in rice.

Dr Van Aken and Prof. Millar, together with colleague Professor Karam Singh, will commence a three year Discovery Project to identify the regulatory mechanisms that control touch-responses in plants. Touch-responsiveness in plants is essential for pathogen resistance, overcoming threats and preventing damage. The project is expected to expand understanding of the physiological impacts of touch-responses on growth and stress tolerance in plants.

Under LIEF funding Prof. Small, along with collaborating researchers, will establish a single-molecule super-resolution microscopy facility in Western Australia. The facility will enable biologists to directly observe interacting macromolecules in plants, animals and organisms.

With a special joint fellowship from the NHMRC and the ARC Mr Buckberry will study the role of the neuronal epigenome in the progression of both natural brain aging and in Alzheimer's disease, as part of Ryan Lister's epigenetics laboratory at the Centre.

All funding is to commence in 2016. Congratulations to all award recipients!

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Australian researchers take on G20 challenge to make energy efficient wheat

>>Press Release: 6 November 2015<<

A team of Australian researchers will contribute to a G20 nations plan to strengthen future, global food security by making more energy efficient wheat.

According to The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations global crop yields must double by 2050 to meet future food security needs. To address this need Agriculture Ministers of the G20 nations have established the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP); a unique, international funding initiative to co-ordinate worldwide wheat research efforts.

A team of Australian scientists have been selected to address a key component of a global future food security solution by increasing the energy efficiency of wheat. This forms part of IWYP's plan to raise the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50%.

continue reading...

Globally, wheat is one of the most important staple crops, providing a fifth of daily calories.

Through a novel approach that combines cutting edge molecular techniques with traditional breeding the team of researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), in Mexico, will exploit the energy systems of wheat plants to dramatically improve their yield.

"The approach will identify new opportunities for wheat improvement through selective breeding for energy use efficiency," says Project Lead Professor Barry Pogson from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

Professor Harvey Millar, a Principal Investigator on the project from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, says "our preliminary data demonstrates that there is untapped genetic variation in the energy use efficiency of wheat. This means we can fine-tune and optimise growth, which will have a positive impact on wheat yield."

The three year project will see wheat improvement through energy use efficiency tackled at the cell, tissue and whole plant level.

"More than 85% of the energy captured by plants is used in cell activities, some futile, meaning that only a very small amount of plant energy is realised as yield," says Principal Investigator Professor Owen Atkin, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

"Improving the ways in which energy is used and distributed within wheat plants has the potential to significantly increase their growth and crop yield".

The project will combine genetics, gene expression and growth studies with the high throughput analysis of photosynthesis and respiration in order to screen elite wheat germplasm from field trials in Australia and Mexico.

Professor Robert Furbank, a Principal Investigator on the project from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis, says "going from field to lab helps us integrate knowledge to identify the best traits in different wheat varieties that can be brought together in new, elite varieties".

Collaborations with technology companies Astec Global and Photon Systems Instruments will make screening and analysis possible through newly developed machinery. Cutting-edge field measurements will be made using technologies including drones, robotics and Global Positioning Systems.

The project, which is set to commence in 2016, is one of only eight internationally to be selected for funding through IWYP. It will share in a US$20 million first investment from a consortium of world research funding agencies.

As the Australian partner of IWYP, the Grain Research Development Corporation will be the primary funder of this project.

The project will involve collaborative efforts by ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology researchers at Australian National University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Adelaide.

Media References:

  • Barry Pogson (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Australian National University) +61 2 6125 5629, +61 409 517 570
Ghislaine and Sandi

Antarctic trip of a lifetime for Western Australian PhD students

>>Press Release: October 2015<<

Two female PhD students from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology are to embark on a trip of a life time - to the Antarctic.

Sandra Kerbler and Ghislaine Platell have been selected to participate in Homeward Bound; a leadership and strategic programme for women in science, set against the backdrop of Antarctica.

Homeward Bound invited applications by women in science from around the globe. Ms Kerbler and Mrs Platell have been selected as two of only seventy eight women from a wide range of science research and communication backgrounds to embark on the voyage in December 2016.

continue reading...

Within her PhD research at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia, Ms Kerbler investigates how plants are affected by changing temperatures, in particular cold stress. Her studies aim to identify how plants adjust their metabolism in response to changing environmental conditions, with such knowledge contributing to the global effort to produce crop plants that can thrive in future changing climates.

"As the world's population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, one of the biggest challenges mankind will face is the ability to feed everyone, which is complicated further by changing environmental conditions" says Ms Kerbler.

The Homeward Bound expedition will focus on building leadership skills for females in science, with a parallel focus on the changing environment and how polar science can inform about the health of the planet.

"Women in leadership roles matter to me because there is still such disparity between men and women in leadership positions" she said. "By taking part in Homeward Bound I hope to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to change current trends and influence policy and decision making."

Mrs Platell, a PhD student with the Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER) and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology studies the gut bacteria of termites to look for enzymes that can be used to produce biofuel from plants. The results of her research may lead to more efficient approaches for biofuel production.

"Plant matter is a source of renewable energy that we can learn to harness more efficiently, just like termites have done for millions of years" says Mrs Platell.

The major aims of Homeward Bound are to elevate each participant's leadership capabilities, to refine their skills in the design and execution of strategy, and devise plans for future collaborations as women working towards a sustainable future.

"I am still young and finding my place in the world, but I have a strong calling to do something useful for our generation. Homeward Bound is an amazing opportunity for me to connect with women that share similar values yet come from diverse backgrounds" says Mrs Platell.

"It is difficult for a single person to really make an impact, but as a group we hope to support one another and lead others to bring about positive change both in the field of climate change, as well as in gender equity globally."

The Homeward Bound trip, departing Ushuaia on December the 2nd 2016, will seek to significantly elevate how women at the leadership table might result in a more inclusive future, focussing on the role of women in leadership globally. Women will undertake 18 days of state-of-the-art education in leadership, strategic skills and global climate, biological and earth system science. Scientific contributors recognised for their expertise and role in a greater understanding of change in our world will deliver a science program on board the expedition. Throughout the voyage a team of globally recognised women of influence, including Primatologist Dr Jane Goodall and Franny Armstrong, founder of the 10:10 global warming mitigation campaign, will share valuable insight to participants through videos.

A team of leading Australian documentary makers will capture stories around the Antarctic voyage to form part of a film that will explore the role of women in our world and challenge the audience to think about the role of females as leaders.

Each participant is required to contribute a portion of the costs involved in taking part in the Homeward Bound expedition. Ms Kerbler and Mrs Platell have launched a crowd funding campaign, together with two other UWA participants, to help raise $25,000 each toward the cost of their journey.

For more information about the Homeward Bound initiative and how you can help, please visit the UWA crowdfunding page.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Laura Solutions Summit

"Zero Hunger" a global goal for Western Australian researcher

>>Press Release: 30 September 2015<<

Dr Laura Boykin spoke at the United Nations Headquarters in New York last weekend about how her research will play a role in tackling the Global Goal of "zero hunger".

Dr Boykin, a Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Western Australia's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was chosen as one of 14 people from around the globe to present her work to world leaders as part of the Solutions Summit.

continue reading...

The Solutions Summit, described as a "catalytic gathering", was part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held last weekend. It marked the beginning of a global effort to support those who are tackling 17 Global Goals by recognising that exceptional innovators, including scientists, technologists and engineers are developing solutions that can address one or more of these goals.

Dr Boykin and her research team use genomics and supercomputing to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control whiteflies, which cause devastation to local cassava crops.

800 million people globally depend on cassava for their daily calories. Estimates of cassava production losses across East and Central African countries as a result of whitefly-mediated destruction have been put as high as 47%. Such devastation is leaving many without food.

Dr Boykin hopes that her work will play a part in tacking Global Goal 2: Zero Hunger. The goal is to "end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture".

Using genetic data to understand the whitefly's evolution, Dr Boykin's research has demonstrated important genetic differences in various whitefly species. This speciation information is used by researchers and breeders to ensure farmers are given varieties of cassava crop resistant to the appropriate whitefly species they are encountering.

Cassava crop destruction results not only in hunger but also in annual losses of more than US$1.25 billion to small scale family farmers in Africa. As such, Dr Boykin's research will also help to tackle the Global Goal of eradicating poverty.

Dr Boykin is also working to equip African scientists with a greater knowledge of genomics and the high-performance computing skills needed to tackle future insect outbreaks.

"My plan is to empower African scientists with genomics and high performance computing skills to not only tackle the whitefly/cassava issue but also future insect problems," says Dr Boykin.

The UN Sustainable Development Summit was attended by more than 150 Heads of State and Government and was designed to turn attention toward breakthrough solutions for achieving the Global Goals.

"Our team uses supercomputing and genomics to help smallholder farmers and I am convinced other technology innovators have ideas on how we can improve our pipelines" she says. "I would like to connect with other change-makers who are working to improve food security globally".

To learn more about Dr Boykin's research see: www.lauraboykinresearch.com

Media References:

  • Laura Boykin (Research Fellow, UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology) Laura.Boykin@uwa.edu.au, +61 8 6488 4488
Olivier VC award

Work of accomplished mid-career plant researchers recognised by the UWA Vice-Chancellor

>>Press Release: 15 September 2015<<

Dr Olivier Van Aken and Dr Joshua Mylne were last week presented with 2015 University of Western Australia Vice-Chancellor's Mid-Career Research Awards

Dr Van Aken, a researcher at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, studies the role of mitochondria and chloroplasts, the energy producing units of a plant cell, during plant responses to stress.

"The main aim of my research is to understand how mitochondria and chloroplasts regulate, and are regulated by, stress responses in plants" says Dr Van Aken. "I'm interested in how we can use these systems to increase tolerance towards environmental and pathogen-related stresses in plants".

continue reading...

Since receiving his PhD in 2007 Dr Van Aken has become recognised as a leading expert in the field of plant stress responses. He has published in many high impact factor journals, has been invited to write reviews for top journals and is regularly asked to present his work at international meetings and Universities.

Dr Mylne is an ARC Future Fellow at UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. He leads a laboratory group that study the genetic events that evolve new plant proteins, especially ones with pharmaceutical applications.

Since completing his PhD in 2002 Dr Mylne has produced over 30 papers, many in high ranking journals.

The UWA VC's Mid-Career Research Awards are presented annually to investigators within 15 years of receiving a doctorate who have demonstrated distinguished achievement in research or scholarship.

"This is a great recognition of Olivier and Joshua's commitment and success in their research and also that of those they have collaborated with," said Professor Harvey Millar, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

UWA recognises that major contributions to research and scholarship require commitment and dedication and the Mid-Career Research Award and similar Vice-Chancellor's prizes serve to acknowledge the efforts of outstanding members of the UWA academe.

Also acknowledged at the awards night held last Wednesday at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery were Highly Cited papers from UWA. The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have produced eight of the 66 papers acknowledged. The authors of these papers include Dr Van Aken, Ryan Lister, Julian Tonti-Filippini, Monika Murcha, Aneta Ivanova, Owen Duncan, Sophia Ng, Sandra Tanz, Hayden Walker, Ian Small, Ian Castleden, Conny Hooper, Michael Vacher, Rana Munns, Mark Waters and Harvey Millar.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Plant Energy Biology researchers dominant amongst authors of influential science

>>Press Release: September 2015<<

Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have featured heavily in a list of most cited authors released by The American Society of Plant Biologists.

ASPB publishes two world recognised journals in the field of plant science; Plant Physiology and The Plant Cell. Through analysis of the citations of papers published in the two journals between 2009 and 2013 the Society identified authors from around the world who have published the most influential science in these journals.

continue reading...

In Recognizing our Authors 2009-2013 the Society names a shortlist of authors of the most highly cited papers from different regions of the world. Nine of the eleven influential authors named from Australasia are ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology researchers.

The nine authors listed are Matthew Gilliham, Harvey Millar, Reena Narsai, Barry Pogson, Ian Small, Nicolas Taylor, Stephen Tyerman, Olivier Van Aken and James Whelan.

The predominance of the Centre's researchers in the list reflects Australia and international recognition of the significance of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's research.

To read more about each of the researchers see Recognizing Our Authors 2009-2013

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Shujuan Zhang

Former Student wins Prestigious Green Talents Competition

>>Press Release: August 2015<<

A former student of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology has been announced as a winner of the 2015 Green Talents competition.

Ms Shujuan Zhang, a former student of the Atkin laboratory at the Australian National University has been selected as one of 25 winners of the prestigious Green Talents - International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development competition, hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The competition aims to promote the international exchange of ideas regarding green solutions.

The programme strives to intensify international Research and Development co-operation in area of sustainable development and winners are recognised for their outstanding achievements in making our societies more sustainable.

continue reading...

Ms Zhang joined the Atkin lab in 2012 to undertake two years of study in Australia as part of her PhD with the Harbin Institute of Technology, and with the support of a China Scholarship Council scholarship.

With the Atkin lab Ms Zhang studied the effects of colonisation by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on growth and yield in fertilized rice. Ms Zhang also undertook experiments to assess the impact of variable nitrogen supply on the carbon and nitrogen economy of several rice cultivars, analysing plant tissue for total nitrogen and phosphorus to better understand how some rice cultivars manage to grow well under nitrogen limiting conditions.

The Centre congratulates Ms Zhang on being presented this opportunity to become part of an exciting, world-wide network of outstanding young minds and leading institutions.

For further information about the competition see here.

Media References:

  • Prof Owen Atkin (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, The Australian National University) Phone +61 2 6125 5046

Bio-Bounce to land in Adelaide and Canberra

>>Press Release: August 6th 2015<<

Bio-Bounce, the Giant Inflatable Plant Cell is making its way across Australia in August as part of a series of National Science Week events!

Bio-Bounce, an educational resource of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology will be a first time attraction at both Science Alive! in Adelaide and Science in ACTion, Canberra this year.

Bio-Bounce is the world's biggest and bounciest cell; an 11 metre by 13 metre inflatable representing a plant cell that has been enlarged one million times. It includes all of the parts needed for the cellular functioning of plants, to help visitors understand how a plant cell works in an immersive and fun way.

continue reading...

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is focused on better understanding the ways in which plants capture, convert and use energy in response to environmental changes. Plants harvest large amounts of energy from sunlight, which feeds, clothes and fuels the world. Plant energy biologists are scientists who delve deep inside plants to study the cells from which they are built.

Using the Bio-Bounce, and an accompanying stall of exciting plant-related activities, the Centre aims to highlight the importance of plant research to the Australian community.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is a multi-nodal research Centre with scientists located at the University of Western Australia, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide and La Trobe University.

The Centre looks forward to educating audiences in Adelaide and Canberra.

Come jump into the exciting world of plant cells! Details:

  • Science Alive!
  • Goyder Pavillion, Adelaide Showground, Goodwood Road, Wayville, SA.
  • Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th August, 9am - 4pm.
  • Science in ACTion
  • Former Transport Depot, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston, ACT
  • Saturday 15th August, 10am - 4pm.

In collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology will deliver hands-on sessions for school groups at Science in ACTion's Schools Day (bookings required).

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer)
Lead authors

Stressed Out Plants Send Animal-Like Signals

>>Press Release: July 30th 2015<<

Research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

A study published this week in the journal Nature Communications describes how plants respond to their environment with a similar combination of chemical and electrical responses to that of animals, but through machinery specific to plants. The work was performed by researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, at the University of Adelaide.

continue reading...

"We've known for a long time that the animal neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is produced by plants under stress, for example when they encounter drought, salinity, viruses, acidic soils or extreme temperatures," says senior author Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham."But it was not known whether GABA was a signal in plants. We've discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when a plant is exposed to a stressful environment."

By identifying how plants respond to GABA the researchers are optimistic that they have opened up many new possibilities for modifying how plants respond to stress.

"The major stresses agricultural crops face like pathogens and poor environmental conditions account for most yield losses around the planet - and consequently food shortages," says co-lead author Professor Stephen Tyerman. "By identifying how plants use GABA as a stress signal we have a new tool to help in the global effort to breed more stress resilient crops to fight food insecurity."

Despite a similar function, the proteins that bind GABA and their mammalian counterparts only resemble each other in the region where they interact with the neurotransmitter - the rest of the protein looks quite different.

"This raises very interesting questions about how GABA has been recruited as a messenger in both plant and animal kingdoms" says co-lead author Dr Sunita Ramesh. "It seems likely that this has evolved in both kingdoms separately."

The researchers say these findings could also explain why particular plant-derived drugs used as sedatives and anti-epileptics work in humans. These drugs are able to interact with proteins in the GABA-signalling system in both plants and animals - suggesting that future work on other plant GABA signalling agents will also benefit the medical field.

The study concentrated primarily on the GABA signalling that occurs in acidic soils. Ongoing research in the Centre is examining the specifics of GABA signalling during alternative stresses, such as anoxia and salinity.

This work was performed in collaboration with researchers at CSIRO Canberra, the University of Tasmania, the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal and the University of Maryland, USA.

Media References:

  • Dr Matthew Gilliham (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, The University of Adelaide) Phone +61 8 8313 8145, Mobile: +61 431 663 614
Tall Poppy

Tall Poppy for Passionate Plant Scientist

>>Press Release: July 28th 2015<<

South Australian plant scientist Dr Caitlin Byrt has been named a 2015 South Australian Tall Poppy.

The prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science Award recognises Dr Byrt's work at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Adelaide, as well as her earlier scientific endeavours. Her recent focus has been on salt tolerance in plants.

Dr Byrt's research highlights have included the discovery of two genes underling salt tolerance in wheat. Her work demonstrated that the proteins coded for by these genes help to prevent toxic build up of sodium in leaves.

continue reading...

"Agricultural productivity faces big challenges" she says. "My research involves engineering plants to improve their productivity for the food and fuel industries. By studying how plants perceive environmental changes we can use this information to develop strategies to increase plant fitness and yield in changing environments".

Through understanding the biology of plants Dr Byrt's research has successfully increased the yields of wheat in saline soils. The introduction of one of the genes identified by Dr Byrt and her colleagues into durum wheat resulted in a crop capable of producing a 25% increase in yield when grown on saline soil.

Dr Byrt has also been proactively involved in science communication and outreach activity. In 2007 she was invited to contribute to the educational documentary Seed Hunter. Seed Hunter talks of the importance of genetic diversity in plant breeding in order to develop new, high yielding crops capable of coping with environmental stresses. Seed Hunter has screened internationally, has won numerous awards and is frequently used in high school science education.

"The scientific research of today directly influences the lifestyle of our children; what they eat, what they wear and how much energy they will have" says the passionate mother of two. "I believe that communicating this message and creating a positive public dialogue about science is critical for the future. I enjoy interacting with the wider community about my research and being part of public engagement programs"

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are presented annually by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) and aim to recognise the achievements of outstanding young Australian scientific researchers and communicators. Award winners participate in education and community outreach programs in which they become role models to inspire school students and the broader community about the possibilities of science.

"I am very excited about the opportunity to promote studying science to a wider audience as part of the Tall Poppy Campaign activities" says Dr Byrt.

Dr Byrt was nominated for the award by her mentor and 2012 Tall Poppy Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham. "Caitlin has a real drive and curiosity" he said. "She is not afraid of stepping into the unknown and breaking new ground. Her contributions to plant science are already significant and I am confident that her future findings will reveal new ways to help our crops tolerate stressful environments".

The South Australian Tall Poppy awards were presented last night at Government House South Australia by the Governor of SA the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO. "These young scientists are creating new ideas, employing new technology and generating new opportunities" he said.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

A 400 million year old signalling system in plants

>>Press Release: July 17th 2015<<

Research by an award winning plant scientist suggests that KAI2-dependent signalling is ancient and fundamental to all plants.

The KAI2 signalling system controls many aspects of the plant life cycle, and a recently published study by 2015 Goldacre Award recipient Dr Mark Waters and his colleagues adds further support for its critical importance in plants by revealing its very ancient origins.

continue reading...

The study, published this week in the journal The Plant Cell, shows that the cell signalling system likely evolved at least 400 million years ago and has been maintained by plants ever since.

Dr Waters was awarded the prestigious Goldacre prize by the Australian Society of Plant Scientists in recognition of his significant efforts in identifying and determining the importance of the KAI2-dependent signalling system in plants. Dr Waters first discovered the KAI2 protein as a means for plants to re-germinate after fire. It subsequently became clear that KAI2 signalling played many more fundamental roles in plants.

The seeds of many plants can be stimulated to germinate after exposure to burnt vegetation and smoke due to the release of chemical compounds called karrikins. The KAI2 protein allows plants to detect these karrikins. The ability to perceive smoke signals makes evolutionary sense for plants that live in fire-prone areas, but a big puzzle was why species that never experience fire should respond to karrikins. Subsequent observations that plants lacking KAI2 have a number of developmental issues suggested a greater importance for this protein in plants.

"In plants lacking KAI2, seeds germinate late, seedlings grow abnormally tall, and leaves fail to form the correct shape" said Dr Waters. "We knew that KAI2 was important, and not just for sensing karrikins. To us, it looked like these mutant plants were missing something critical for normal plant development."

Results from the most recent study suggest that the KAI2-dependent signalling system not only performs fundamental roles in plants but that it also originated many years ago.

"500 million years ago plants were simple in form and never strayed far from water" said Dr Waters. "Over time, evolution solved many of the challenges of living on dry land in a stepwise fashion, culminating in the highly diverse and specialised flowering plants that now dominate most of Earth's ecosystems."

When Dr Waters noticed that liverworts, mosses and lycophyte ferns, the most primitive land plants, have KAI2-like proteins, he set out to study these proteins further. The lycophyte fern Selaginella moellendorffii, which has recently had its genome fully sequenced, was the plant model of choice for this work.

The study revealed that a KAI2-like protein from Selaginella does indeed have KAI2-like properties, but with one exception: it does not work with karrikins.

"It worked beautifully in restoring leaf shape and seedling growth, suggesting that it does the same things in recent plants as it does in Selaginella" said Dr Waters. "But with karrikins, no dice. So we think KAI2 has a very fundamental signalling function that is common to ferns and higher plants, but things like responding to karrikins likely evolved much later."

Lycophyte ferns and flowering plants last shared a common ancestor some 200 million years before dinosaurs existed, but this study suggests KAI2 was already in existence at this time. The fact that KAI2-dependent signalling has existed over such long timescales implies that it holds a centrally important function in plant development.

Dr Waters believes that KAI2 may be the receptor for an unknown plant hormone, and that some plants have managed to use it to detect smoke as well.

"Evolution is pretty efficient" he says. "Tinkering with a pre-existing system is much easier than coming up with something anew."

This work was published in The Plant Cell.

The study was performed out of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Western Australia's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where Dr Waters holds a joint research position.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481

Post-Doctoral Researcher Awarded Prestigious EMBO Fellowship

>>Press Release: June 17th 2015<<

Only a short time after joining the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology Dr Aimone Porri has been awarded a prestigious long-term post-doctoral fellowship by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

Dr Porri completed his PhD studies and subsequent research at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne before joining the Lister Lab group at Plant Energy Biology's University of Western Australia node in 2014.

With the support of the EMBO Fellowship Dr Porri will explore DNA methylation in the model research plant Arabidopsis thaliana. DNA methylation is an essential epigenomic modification of DNA that is involved in many biological processes in plants and humans. Dr Porri's project aims to develop new molecular tools that allow the deliberate and precise induction of changes in DNA methylation in the Arabidopsis genome.

continue reading...

"I would like to thank Prof Ryan Lister and my colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology who have encouraged and supported me in applying for this prestigious European Fellowship" said Dr Porri.

"Access to my own research funds will allow me to start new, powerful collaborations with the European scientific community. I feel honoured to receive this award and this is a great achievement not only for me but also for our Centre" he said.

Dr Porri's research into innovative epigenome engineering tools will have potentially widespread applications in agriculture and biomedicine.

Media references:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Ian Small

Professor Ian Small named a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science

>>Press Release: May 25th 2015<<

Professor Ian Small will be inducted as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science at a ceremony in Canberra this evening, in recognition of his contribution to science and scientific research.

Prof. Small from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia researches cell mechanisms that control production of proteins in plant organelles, the primary generators of energy used by all living organisms.

Prof. Small's work has promising applications in agriculture and biotechnology.

continue reading...

In 2014 Prof. Small was titled Scientist of the Year at the WA Premier's Science Awards, and awarded a prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowship. His inclusion in the prestigious Thomson Reuters 2014 Highly Cited Researchers list had him named as one of the world's most influential scientific minds.

Prof. Small is best known for his discovery and characterisation of the pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) family of proteins. This family of proteins is important for controlling plant fertility in hybrid crop breeding.

PPR proteins bind individual RNA sequences in the plant cell organelles the chloroplast and mitochondrion. This binding determines whether or not a gene is expressed. The PPR protein-RNA sequence recognition is dependent on a novel molecular code that Prof. Small and his colleagues discovered. The code has been shown to underlie male plant sterility and, ultimately, the restoring of fertility for plant breeding. The code also shows great practical promise in allowing targeted editing of RNA sequences, and hence controlling gene expression, in all living species.

Prof. Small will give a presentation about his work, titled From biodiversity to synthetic biology: using evolution to inform the design of synthetic RNA binding proteins, at the Academy's annual flagship event, Science at the Shine Dome.

Prof. Small was selected as one of 21 new Fellows by the Australian Academy of Science. The Academy now numbers a total of 503 Fellows.

Ian was recently interviewed about his work and his election into the Academy.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)

Sunflower Protein 'Scissors' Provide Sunny News For Medicine

>>Press Release: May 8th 2015<<

A finding that may have pharmaceutical companies jumping for joy is that scientists have discovered an extraordinary protein-cutting enzyme that has also evolved to glue proteins together.

They found the unusual enzyme in an ordinary plant, the sunflower.

The researchers, from The Universities of Western Australia and Queensland, have unravelled the manufacturing route sunflowers use to make a super-stable protein ring. The ability to make super-stabile proteins may make the enzyme valuable in the production of therapeutic drugs.

continue reading...

The enzyme at the heart of the synthesis, AEP, has been shown to have evolved a second ability - not only can AEP cut proteins, but some also have an unusual ability to join them together.

By using artificial proteins that mimic the parent molecule of a drug-like protein from sunflower seeds the team, led by a researcher from UWA and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, have discovered some AEP enzymes can convert parent molecular 'string' into a small, stable 'bracelet-like' protein ring. They also discovered a degrading pathway that cleans up any misprocessing and makes the process 100 per cent efficient in sunflower seeds.

Although this work is of interest to researchers by providing an understanding of how protein machinery can stabilise proteins, it also provides a starting point for making custom enzymes that can join proteins together.

The study was published overnight and features on the cover of the May issue of the international journal Chemistry & Biology. The article shows how the enzyme AEP (asparaginyl endo-peptidase) is needed to create a small circular protein in sunflower seeds.

"You can find AEP enzymes in all plants where they defend plants from pathogens and mature seed store proteins, but in sunflower AEP appears to have specialised to produce a small cyclic peptide that we think protects the seeds from insects," said lead author Dr Kalia Bernath-Levin.

"The way AEP does this is really interesting. Enzymes can accelerate reactions in both directions, but many reactions go just one way. For example, making a protein bond needs energy and for the two pieces to be held close together. So it's much easier for an enzyme to cut proteins than join them."

"The reaction isn't really ligation as the energy for that comes from cutting at the same time. It's a mouthful, but we're calling it a cleavage-dependent intramolecular transpeptidation reaction, which basically means a cutting and a ligation reaction happening at the same time makes the critical bond," says Professor Joshua Mylne, who led the team of Australian scientists that revealed this amazing dual-functioning enzyme.

"Now we're desperate to know exactly what changes in AEP allowed it to do this reaction because looking at its sequence, you'd just expect this ligating AEP to be like any other protein-cutter."

Prof. Mylne is an ARC Future Fellow at UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

The study "Peptide macrocyclisation by a bifunctional endoprotease" was supported by the ARC.

Media References:

  • Joshua S. Mylne ARC Future Fellow (UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemistry & ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 4415
Mark Waters

Prestigious Goldacre Award for Dr Mark Waters

>>Press Release: May 2015<<

Dr Mark Waters, affiliate researcher to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, has been named the recipient of the 2015 Goldacre award.

The prestigious award, administered by the Australian Society of Plant Scientists, acknowledges the value of original research performed by the awardee in an area of plant science.

Dr Waters joined the University of Western Australia in 2010 to study the genetics of karrikin responses in plants. Karrikins are compounds produced during wildfires that stimulate the germination of seeds. Dr Waters' research has explained early events in karrikin signalling in plants, specifically involving the karrikin receptor protein KAI2.

"We have known about karrikins in smoke since 2004, but we had no idea at the time how plants recognised these smokey compounds" says Dr Waters. "Discovering the KAI2 protein as the likely receptor for karrikins was a breakthrough".

continue reading...

Dr Waters' work has since focussed on understanding what KAI2 does in plants. "It turns out that detecting karrikins is only a small part of the story" he says.

Dr Waters work has established that KAI2 regulates diverse aspects of the plant life cycle, and the evolutionary preservation of KAI2 in plants suggests that it plays a role in fundamental and ancient process common to all plants.

"I am honoured to have received this award" Dr Waters says. "While it recognises my personal achievements, it also reflects the success of the wider research team here at UWA, including Adrian Scaffidi, Gavin Flematti, Steven Smith and Kelly Sun".

The Goldacre Award honours the memory and attainments of Peter Goldacre, a young scientist and foundation member of the ASPS.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Genomic breeding

Genomic Breeding For The Future

>>Press Release: April 22nd 2015<<

Researchers from Plant Energy Biology's Australian National University node have authored a special issue publication on Genomic breeding for food, environment and livelihoods.

Genomic breeding has the potential to accelerate the response to the food security challenges of the future.

"Genomic breeding is a process by which we can tease apart an organism's genetic code and find the genes responsible for plant performance" says John Rivers, co-author of the paper and a PEB PhD student performing his research at the ANU.

continue reading...

Breeding using genomic techniques could revolutionise plant breeding, providing farmers with more productive crops in a shorter amount of time.

The paper details the potential that genomics and "big data" computing holds for plant breeders, such as breeding plants for specific environments and accelerating the improvement of neglected crops. The publication also discusses what is now needed to gain the most from genomic breeding.

Simply put, it requires "more scientists collecting more, and better, data" says Rivers.

The FE2W Network will today host a Policy Forum Lunch and a public event, Feeding more than 9 Billion: Challenges and Choices by 2050, at the ANU in parallel with the release of the special issue publication in Food Security.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Nic Taylor

Publication awards for Plant Energy Biology scientists

>>Press Release: March 2015<<

Two researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have received University of Western Australia Faculty of Science awards for Research Excellence, and another Centre scientist was named as a finalist.

Dr Nicolas Taylor was presented with the Robson Medal, awarded in the areas of "Feeding the World, Research Excellence in Agriculture and Related Areas". The medal was presented by former UWA Vice Chancellor Emeritus Professor Alan Robson in recognition of Dr Taylor's work investigating the role that respiration plays in plant tolerance to salinity, through the analysis of mitochondrial proteomes.

The publication, co-authored with other Centre researchers, advances the understanding of how salinity affects respiration in wheat. With increased salinity being observed in soils around the world this information hold significant value for Australian and world agriculture.

continue reading...

Dr Sandra Tanz was presented with the award for the category of "Furthering human knowledge and enhancing society" for her work on SUBA3, a database for integrating experimental and predictive information that helps to define the sub-cellular location of proteins in plant cells. The function of many plant proteins remains to be resolved. A key step towards understanding the metabolic or biochemical role of any protein is to define its sub-cellular location.

"Aggregating the evidence for where all the proteins of an organism are located within the cell is an important foundation for interpreting their roles" Dr Tanz said.

Plant Energy Biology researcher Dr David Secco was named as a finalist for the Robson Medal for his publication describing the profiling of genes expressed in the roots and shoots of rice in response to phosphate starvation and recovery. The study provides a comprehensive overview of the dynamic responses of rice to phosphate stress, and informs how plants that are more efficient at acquiring and using phosphate may be generated in the future.

The UWA Faculty of Science awards are given to early career researchers and are judged from a peer-reviewed paper published within the prior 12 months.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)

Plant Energy Biology to take over the Scitech Planetarium!

>>Press Release: February 16th 2015<<

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology will take to a unique forum this weekend to showcase some of its most exciting research. The Centre will combine with Scitech to premiere Plantarium, a spectacular, full-dome visual presentation of the Centre's science.

Plantarium, designed for a domed screen, is an immersive journey through the insides of plant cells and the insides of Plant Energy Biology laboratories. Several of the Centre's scientists will be at the screening to address questions about the research being done in Australia.

Plantarium will screen in the Scitech Planetarium in Perth on the 21st and 22nd of February. Plant Energy Biology will also host Meet The Scientist sessions on the Scitech main floor, giving visitors the opportunity to look down a microscope at plant cells and try their hand at DNA extractions.

continue reading...

Also on display at Scitech until March is the Plant Energy Biology photography exhibition Plants: from micro to macro, with science in between.

The Centre is keen to empower the community with a better understanding of the power of plants and the benefits of plant energy biology research, and to do so in fun and engaging ways. The Centre has previously engaged with public audiences using Bio-Bounce, the world's biggest and bounciest inflatable plant cell and through other community and school activities.

View the Facebook event here.


  • Plantarium screening and Q and A session with scientists.
  • Scitech Planetarium, Perth.
  • Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd February.
  • Starting 12.30pm.
  • Meet the Scientist session/activities with Plant Energy Biology.
  • Scitech Think Tank.
  • Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd February.
  • 10.00-11.00am.
  • Plant Energy Biology photography display.
  • Plants: from micro to macro, with science in between
  • Scitech Curvy Wall, on display until March.

Media references:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Qu and Gilliham

Research finds source of salt tolerance in soybean

>>Press Release: January 8th 2015<<

A collaborative research project between Australian and Chinese scientists has shown how soybean can be bred to better tolerate soil salinity.

Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's University of Adelaide node and from the Institute of Crop Sciences in the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, have identified a specific gene in soybean that has great potential for soybean crop improvement.

"Soybean is the fifth largest crop in the world in terms of both crop area planted and amount harvested" says the project's lead Australian researcher, Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham.

"Many commercial crops, including soybean, are sensitive to soil salinity and this can cause major losses to their yield" he said. "On top of that, the area of salt affected agricultural land is rapidly increasing and is predicted to double in the next 35 years".

continue reading...

The identification of genes that improve crop salt tolerance will be essential to efforts to improve global food security.

Associate Professor Gilliham and PhD student Yue Qu, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, investigated the function of the gene GmSALT3 after it was pinpointed by Professor Lijuan Qiu and Dr Rongxia Guan at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences as a candidate salt tolerance gene in soybean.

"This gene functions in a completely new way from other salt tolerance genes we know about" says Associate Professor Gilliham. "We can now use this information to find similar genes in different crops such as wheat and grapevine, to selectively breed for their enhanced salt tolerance."

The genetic sequence of several hundred soybean varieties was initially examined at the Institute of Crop Sciences in Beijing.

"We initially identified the gene by comparing two commercial cultivars" says Professor Qiu. "We were surprised and pleased to see that this gene also conferred salt tolerance in some other commercial cultivars, old domesticated soybean varieties and even wild soybean."

"It appears that this gene was lost when breeding new cultivars of soybean in areas without salinity. This has left many new cultivars susceptible to the rapid increases we are currently seeing in soil salinity around the world."

By identifying the gene, genetic markers can now be used in breeding programs to ensure that salt tolerance can be maintained in future cultivars of soybean that will be grown in areas prone to soil salinity.

The research has been published as a feature article in The Plant Journal.

Media References:

  • Dr Matthew Gilliham (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, The University of Adelaide) Phone +61 8 8313 8145, Mobile: +61 431 663 614
  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) +61 8 6488 4481
Laura Boykin

TED Fellowship for Australian Computational Biologist Dr Laura Boykin

>>Press Release: December 18th 2014<<

Passionate and engaging researcher Laura Boykin has been named as the only Australian-based TED Fellow for 2015.

Research Fellow Boykin is a joint researcher at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Western Australia's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is applying her skills in computational biology and genomics to addressing food security issues in Sub-Saharan Africa (www.lauraboykinresearch.com).

Cassava crops, a staple food source in Africa, are being devastated by whiteflies that feed on the crops and spread viruses. Whiteflies are one of the most pervasive pests on earth and whitefly devastation is costing global agriculture billions of dollars a year. In Africa, the whitefly is leaving many smallholder farmers without the food to feed their families.

continue reading...

Dr Boykin is studying the genetics of whitefly species to understand their differences and help to control whiteflies.

"Whitefly is a pest which is found all around the world, affecting agriculture wherever they go" she said. "The techniques we're developing with African whiteflies can be applied with researchers and farmers all around the world".

Dr Boykin also wants to help build capacity in genomics and super-computing in Sub-Saharan Africa, and empower African scientists with high performance computing skills to tackle the cassava and whitefly issue, as well as future insect outbreaks.

As of 2014 she is also working as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative: African cassava whitefly: outbreak causes and sustainable solutions. The initiative, established and funded by the Gates Foundation, is a collective of international researchers focussed on addressing the cassava and whitefly issue.

"I am not doing this alone" said Dr Boykin. "I have many collaborators around the world and we are fighting this fight together. We will only stop when farmers have food all year round and enough surplus to send their children to school and lead healthy, happy lives."

Research Fellow Boykin has been named as one of twenty-one TED Fellows for 2015, and joins an international community of around 300 innovative and "trail-blazing" TED Fellows from previous years.

TED, founded in 1985, is an internationally recognised non-profit body that operates under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". TED is best recognised for its TED Talks; short, powerful presentations delivered by inspiring people on a broad range of topics.

TED Fellowships offer unique access to skill-building workshops and the mentorship of world-renowned experts. TED Fellows present their own TED Talks at international conferences and remain connected to the many resources of the TED community.

The TED Fellowship will provide Dr Boykin with an avenue to raise awareness about food security issues in Sub-Saharan Africa and showcase how genomics and supercomputing are aiding research solutions for smallholder farmers. She will be presenting at TED2015 in March of next year.

"After two trips to Kenya and seeing the smallholder farmers suffering, I had to turn towards the heartbreak and do something about it" she said. "That "something" is stepping onto that TED stage and telling the world about our research and how we plan to help these famers."

Dr Boykin also looks forward to the opportunity to interact with the "amazing TED Fellows - past, present and future."

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Caitlin Byrt

Early Career Research Medal for Dr Caitlin Byrt

>>Press Release: December 12th 2014<<

Dr Caitlin Byrt, a Postdoctoral Associate researcher at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's University of Adelaide node has become the inaugural recipient of the Edith Emily Dornwell Early Career Research Medal.

Dr Byrt's research expertise is in plant physiology. Her specific research interests include investigating salt tolerance mechanisms in wheat, ion transport in cereal crops and the assessment and modification of crops for biofuel and chemical industries.

Excessive salt in soils can limit the productivity of crops. The area of salt-affected agricultural land is predicted to double by the year 2050. This presents a challenge that can be addressed with the production of crops with improved salt-tolerance.

continue reading...

Dr Byrt's research into molecular mechanisms that increase the salt-tolerance of wheat plants has contributed to the production of a wheat variety capable of a 25% improvement in yield when grown in saline soil, compared with other varieties. This is a positive outcome for farmers and for global food security.

When not performing her research Dr Byrt enjoys being mother to two young sons, aged one and three years old.

The new Edith Emily Dornwell Early Career Research Medal recognises excellence in early-career research at the University of Adelaide. The medal has been named after the University's first female graduate (Bachelor of Science, 1885). The University of Adelaide was the second university in the world to have allowed the award of degrees to women.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Caitlin Byrt

A promising new cohort of Discovery Early Career Researchers for Plant Energy Biology

>>Press Release: December 12th 2014<<

A number of early career scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have had success in the most recent Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs) funding round.

The DECRA recipients include Dr Caitlin Byrt (The University of Adelaide), Dr David Secco and Dr Bernard Gutmann (The University of Western Australia), and Dr Steven Eichten (The Australian National University), young researchers based at different Australian nodes of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. Dr Brendan O'Leary was also awarded a DECRA and will join the Centre in 2015.

Dr Byrt's project will focus on economically important plants, and will examine how the regulation and inter-conversion of nucleotide sugar synthesis controls properties of arabinoxylan. Arabinoxylan is a major component of dietary fibre, and is highly variable in plants. The modification of arabinoxylan properties holds potential for many applications in plant industries. Dr Byrt's project will be performed as part of a collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls.

continue reading...

Dr Secco's project will aim to comprehensively identify the DNA methylation changes that occur in plant cells when nutrient starved. The modification of DNA through methylation is essential for maintaining appropriate gene expression patterns in cells, and was recently suggested to be responsive to environmental cues, in plants. Dr Secco aims to determine the effects of nutrient stress-induced DNA methylation in plants, as well as assess whether such DNA methylation changes can be passed to subsequent generations, producing inter-generational stress responsiveness. An understanding of the role DNA methylation can play in plant stress response will be valuable for future crop-improvement strategies.

Under DECRA funding Dr Gutmann will apply an understanding of the pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) code in PPR proteins, to the design of molecular, customised RNA-binding tools. The PPR code can guide the recognition of specific RNA molecules by a PPR protein. The application of this to molecular tools holds tremendous potential for research, biotechnology and for therapeutic strategies such as the targeting of RNA-based viruses that infect vegetable crops.

The objective of Dr Eichten's research into the functional role of the extended genotype in plants will be the prediction and selection of plant genetic responses to the environment.

"Adaptation to environmental change is required for species to persist. However rapid environmental change may exceed the limits of traditional genetic adaptation leading to widespread decline" said Dr Eichten. "The extended genotype could provide heritable variation, allowing rapid adaptation to environmental challenges."

Dr Brendan O'Leary, who is currently performing research with the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, was also awarded a DECRA and will join the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's UWA team in 2015. His project will focus on understanding a specific type of chemical modification to key enzymes in plant cells. Dr O'Leary will examine how this influences plant metabolism.

DECRAs are administered by the Australian Research Council and fund researcher's salaries for three years. Some awards include additional funds to be put towards project costs.

Dr Inge de Clercq, a researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's La Trobe University node in Melbourne was also recently awarded a Fellowship by The Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), to investigate the role of mitochondria in plants and expand an understanding of how plants perceive and respond to adverse environmental conditions.

Congratulations to all award recipients!

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Sandra Tanz

Recognition From The UWA Vice Chancellor For A Promising Early Career Researcher Investigating High Performance Photosynthesis

>>Press Release: November 10th 2014<<

Assistant Professor Sandra Tanz, of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, was last week presented with a University of Western Australia Vice Chancellor's Research Award for Early Career Investigators.

A/Prof. Tanz' work, which focuses on understanding the photosynthetic mechanisms of high performance C4 plants, has the potential to improve productivity of crop plants grown under adverse conditions.

Many significant global food crops, such as rice and wheat, are of the C3 photosynthetic variety. The potential outcome of A/Prof. Tanz' research is embedding efficient C4 photosynthetic traits into C3 crops. This could significantly boost yield from staple food crops around the globe.

"By investigating the photosynthetic mechanisms that exist in known high performing C4 plants, my ambition is to make the knowledge available for application in food crops used in adverse climates, and thereby contribute to feeding an increasing world population" A/Prof. Tanz said.

continue reading...

Her work, at UWA, forms part of the greater ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology research vision; to enhance plant energy efficiency under changing environments to improve their productivity.

A/Prof. Tanz currently performs her research with funding from a prestigious ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award. She has previously secured a number of other competitive grants, awards and prizes.

She acknowledges the great opportunities afforded to her through her position at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, UWA and through the support of the ARC.

A/Prof. Tanz has published high impact papers in a number of internationally recognised journals, and in 2012 and 2013 attended the celebrations of UWA's Highly Cited Researchers and The Authors of UWA's Highly Cited Papers, in recognition of her achievements.

A/Prof. Tanz has also been proactive in promoting her work and related science by engaging in academic activity beyond her research. She has presented at esteemed international conferences in plant science, has sat on the organising committee of the Western Australian Combined Biological Sciences Meeting, and has been actively involved in outreach and public awareness projects for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and UWA.

"You need to be determined and prepared to work hard, but for those that do, the rewards are a career full of discoveries, travel, and a sense of real satisfaction in pushing the boundaries of human knowledge" A/Prof Tanz said.

UWA recognises that major contributions to research and scholarship require commitment and dedication, and the Research Award for Early Career Investigators and similar Vice Chancellor's prizes serve to acknowledge the efforts of outstanding members of the UWA academe.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Professor Ryan Lister

Professor Ryan Lister Awarded Prime Minister's Prize for Australian Life Scientist of the Year

>>Press Release: October 29th 2014<<

Professor Ryan Lister, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia, was this evening awarded the prestigious Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, at the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science awards ceremony.

Professor Lister's research, which focuses on epigenetics and genomics, has the potential to revolutionise agriculture, improve our understanding of the human brain and transform stem-cell medicine.

Organisms are composed of hundreds of different types of cells, yet all cells are formed from the same set of instructions - the organism's genome. A major challenge in biology is determining how the information contained in genes can give rise to the hundreds of specialised cell types that make up a complex organism.

"On top of the genetic code sits another code, the epigenome. It can direct which genes are switched on and which are switched off" Professor Lister says. "The genome contains a huge volume of information, a parts list to build an entire organism. Controlling when and where the different components are used is crucial. The epigenetic code regulates the release of the genome's potential."

continue reading...

It is now known that the epigenome plays pivotal roles in normal development and disease or stress states in plants, humans and animals.

Professor Lister has sat at the forefront of epigenetics research after he pioneered new techniques that use large-scale DNA sequencing to rapidly produce whole-genome maps of the epigenome.

He first applied these new techniques to the model plant Arabidopsis. The resultant plant epigenomes provide foundational knowledge for understanding the role of epigenetic regulation in plant growth, development, and responses to the environment. His work will be critical for future efforts to develop crops that provide better yields of food, fuel and fibre in challenging and changing environments.

Professor Lister went on to apply his techniques to the human genome. The fundamental importance of the first complete and accurate human epigenetic maps was evidenced by the widespread recognition of his study. It was rated by TIME Magazine as the second most important scientific discovery of 2009, and received widespread media attention.

"We can now vault the species divide in our research" Professor Lister said. "With these new technologies we're seeing the old discipline borders between animals and plants dissolve. As the cost of DNA sequencing and synthesis continues to fall, science is pushing towards discoveries that impact across many species simultaneously."

In the human brain, Professor Lister has found a new form of the epigenome that is extensively reconfigured during childhood brain development, and that may play a critical role in learning, memory and neurological disorders. In stem-cell medicine, he has clarified a current challenge with his discovery that cells retain an epigenetic memory of their past.

Professor Lister is now an ARC Future Fellow, Chief Investigator and a program leader in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and leads a vibrant epigenetics and genomics research group at UWA. In accepting the Prize Professor Lister acknowledged his "fantastic colleagues", stating that "science isn't done in isolation, and none of my achievements are mine alone. I have to thank all my wonderful colleagues, past and present."

Professor Lister has been highly successful in securing multiple grants from the ARC, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the National Institutes of Health.

"Support of both basic and applied research into the future is critical for Australian science" he said. "In the coming years, the genomics revolution will become much more apparent to us all as it brings transformative advances in agriculture and medicine. This will touch everyone and have major economic benefits, and so it is a perfect opportunity for Australia to play a leading international role in the area of genomics."

Professor Lister was nominated for the Prize by colleague, mentor and current director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, Professor Harvey Millar. Professor Millar was the recipient of the same prize in 2005.

"Ryan's landmark scientific achievements have greatly advanced our understanding of the epigenetic code superimposed upon the genome" said Professor Millar. "Ryan's receipt of this Prize reflects the unquestionable significance of his work to the progress of agriculture and human health."

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Dr Nicolas Taylor

Exploring Plant Metabolism and Adaptation to Environmental Extremes

>>Press Release: October 10th 2014<<

Read about the work being performed by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's ARC Future Fellow Dr Nicolas Taylor in the latest edition of International Innovation

Dr Taylor and members of his Molecular Acclimation Laboratory use mass spectrometry and other molecular approaches to investigate the mechanisms that allow plants to adapt and survive in extreme environmental conditions.

Understanding how plant growth responds to different extremes, such as those in temperature and salinity, is critical in the face of changing climates and limiting environments. Dr Taylor's work will help provide the knowledge needed to breed for certain traits that allow plants - our food and fuel - to weather the future.

Ian Small

Prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowship for Plant Energy Biology's Professor Ian Small

>>Press Release: August 22nd 2014<<

Professor Ian Small has been announced as an Australian Laureate Fellow under the Australian Research Council (ARC)'s most prestigious research grants scheme.

The Fellowship will support Professor Small and his team conducting valuable research at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia.

Professor Small's research interests focus on the RNA world of mitochondria and chloroplasts in plant cells and also on building computational models of plant metabolism. Professor Small and his group investigate how genes are controlled with a view to optimising the use of plants in agricultural and environmental applications.

The research project to be funded under the Laureate Fellowship will aim to understand how the largest class of RNA-binding protein in plants recognise their genetic targets and to develop custom-designed proteins for switching genes on or off. The technology will be used to create new hybrid cereal crop varieties and will be valuable for applications in human health, such as the correction of genetic mutations.

The project complements the greater research mission of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology which aims to improve plant energy efficiency for greater yields in harsh and changing environments.

"This is great news for our team. The funding will allow us to develop some radically new approaches with broad promise in biotechnology. In collaboration with the Centre we'll be trying out some really novel ways of controlling energy processes in plants" said Professor Small.

Professor Small established the world-leading ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology in Perth and served as Centre Director from 2006 to 2013.

continue reading...

Professor Small was yesterday named Scientist of the Year in the Western Australian Premier's Science Awards. Earlier this year he was listed by Thomson-Reuters as one of the world's most influential scientific minds and named among a list of the most cited researchers in the world.

"Professor Ian Small's receipt of an Australian Laureate Fellowship is another major recognition of Professor Small and his team's research and is an excellent result for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology" said Harvey Millar, current Director of the Centre.

The Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme aims to support excellence in research by attracting world-class researchers and research leaders to key positions, and creating new rewards and incentives for the application of their talents in Australia. The ARC funding consists of salary support, funding for postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students, and significant project funding over six years.

Professor Small has received one of only 15 fellowships awarded under the current Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme round and is the only Fellow from this round in Western Australia.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Ian Small

Overwhelming Success For Plant Energy Biology At The 2014 WA Premier's Science Awards

>>Press Release: August 22nd 2014<<

Professor Ian Small has been announced as the 2014 Scientist of the Year.

Western Australian Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett announced the title at the 2014 Premier's Science Awards ceremony held last night at the WA Museum.

Professor Small's work has built global understanding of how plants capture, store and release energy - vital information for sustainable agriculture production and food security. He established the world-leading Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology in Perth and served as Centre Director from 2006 to 2013. He continues his work with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology as one of the Centre's Chief Investigators. Professor Small was this year listed by Thomson-Reuters as one of the world's most influential scientific minds and named among a list of the world's most cited researchers.

continue reading...

"This is wonderful recognition for our Centre and highlights the importance of plant science to the future of agriculture and the environment in Australia" he said.

Current Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology Professor Harvey Millar congratulated Professor Small, saying "This is an excellent recognition of Ian Small's commitment to making new discoveries in plant science and his role as a leader, mentor and collaborator with researchers both nationally and internationally".

The Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBER), partner Centre to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology was also, last night, awarded the 2014 Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year. The award was presented to the Centre in recognition of its activities raising community awareness about the importance of honeybees to the environment. CIBER collaborates with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology in molecular science aspects of bee reproduction, immunity and their pollination of crops and the two Centres have joint laboratories at the University of Western Australia.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Dignitaries touring

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is Officially Launched

>>Press Release: August 5th 2014<<

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology was showcased at an official launch held at the University of Western Australia (UWA) on Monday evening, the 4th of August.

Dignitaries, including Senator for Western Australia Chris Back, ARC Chief Executive Officer Professor Aidan Byrne, UWA Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson and Chief Scientist of Western Australia Professor Peter Klinken toured laboratory facilities at the Centre's UWA node. The Centre's research was showcased by Chief Investigators representing the Centre's Australian National University, University of Adelaide and La Trobe University nodes and by Chief Investigators, staff and students from the Centre's UWA node.

The Centre of Excellence Scheme aims to fund highly innovative and potentially transformational research. The Centre's successful application for funding in the most recent ARC Centres of Excellence scheme round will support research and community engagement through till the year 2020.

continue reading...

Professor Aidan Byrne emphasised that while the Centre shares a name with a previous Centre the ARC does not automatically grant a renewal of funding. "It is not good enough just to have done excellent research. To succeed again a Centre must be able to build from previous activity, it must identify new challenges and demonstrate the capacity to achieve them - it is not just about more of the same" he said.

The current Centre has seen Professor Harvey Millar commence as Centre Director and the appointment of new Chief Investigators, expanding research directions and capabilities for the Centre. The new Centre has also seen the start of a La Trobe University node.

The Centre's vision is to enhance plant energy efficiency by simultaneously optimising energy capture, conversion and use in changing environments to improve the sustainable productivity of plants. The Centre aims to do this through innovative, collaborative research and valuable national and international academic and industry partnerships.

"This research Centre is about plant scientists combining their efforts in fundamental plant biology, with an eye on its application as part of a global effort" said Professor Millar. "Salinity, temperature extremes, and nutrient deficient soils are key parts of the problems we face, and these are all topics we are addressing in the Centre".

The Centre's research will help to tackle food security and energy crisis concerns, and will lead to social and economic benefits for Australia.

"The impact [of plant science] will be profound on what we grow, what we eat and how we engage with the natural environment" said Professor Millar.

The Centre also aims to provide Australians with access to information and to facilitate a better understanding of the importance of plants and their incredible ability to capture, process and convert energy through its Education, Training and Outreach programs.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology 2014-2020 was officially opened by Senator Chris Back.

"The Centre has already produced outstanding research outcomes in the past and will continue to do so for the next seven years that funding that has been assured. I look forward to the continued success of [Centre Director] Harvey, your colleagues and of course your graduate and postgraduate students. It really gives me great pleasure to launch the Centre" Senator Back stated before officially opening the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Ian and Harvey

Professor Ian Small named as a finalist for Scientist of the Year

>>Press Release: July 28th 2014<<

Western Australian Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett recently announced the finalists for the Premier's Science Awards, in which Professor Ian Small of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology has been named as a contender for Scientist of the Year.

This year Professor Small was listed by Thomson-Reuters as one of the world's most highly-cited authors, ranking in the top one percent for his subject field. Since coming to Western Australia as a Premier's Fellow in 2006 he has established the world leading ARC Centre of Excellence of Plant Energy Biology, acting as Centre Director from 2006 till 2013 and attracting over $57 million in ARC funding.

continue reading...

As a Chief Investigator at the Centre's UWA node Professor Small's research continues to focus on understanding how plants capture, store and release energy. Investigating how genes are controlled, his discoveries have provided the basis for efficiencies in large food production with implications for agriculture and the environment.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Ian and Harvey

Plant Scientists Named Among the World's Most Influential Scientific Minds

>>Press Release: June 24th 2014<<

Two scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have been recognised as some of the most influential scientific minds in the world.

Professor Harvey Millar and Professor Ian Small earned the title through their inclusion in the prestigious Thomson Reuters 2014 Highly Cited Researchers list. They have also been named in the accompanying report; The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds: 2014. This accomplishment reflects the significance, quality and impact of the many scientific publications they have published in collaboration with other scientists and students from the Centre.

The Centre focuses its research on the energy system of plants - an energy system that ultimately feeds, clothes and fuels the world. Researchers aim to discover and characterise the molecular components that drive energy metabolism in plant cells, which will lead to significant benefits for Australian agriculture. The Centre performs in partnership with a number of agencies including the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Agilent Technologies and Limagrain.

Professor Millar, newly appointed Director of the Centre, leads a research team that investigates respiration in plants and the roles played by proteins in maintaining the function of plants in harsh environments, such as drought, salinity and temperature extremes. His group is also working on measuring the speed of protein turnover in plants, which represents a major energy expense but is necessary to maintain the quality of plant products.

continue reading...

Professor Small, who served as Director from 2006 to 2013, and his research group focus on the RNA world of mitochondria and chloroplasts in plant cells. These organelles make some of the most important and abundant proteins on Earth. The group investigates how genes are controlled with a view to optimising the use of plants in agricultural and environmental applications.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology comprises four collaborating nodes at University of Western Australia, Australian National University, University of Adelaide and La Trobe University. Professor Millar and Professor Small conduct their research at UWA.

The Centre was recently awarded $26 million funding by the Australian Research Council to accelerate its research from 2014 to 2020. It was also recognised for its outstanding community engagement last year when it won Science Engagement Initiative of the Year Award at the 2013 WA Science Awards.

The Centre's outreach and educational programs include a variety of strategies to engage the community with plant science. They promote the importance of science and aim to increase understanding of the significance of plants and their ability to capture, process and covert energy, focusing on engaging the general public, students, farmers and industry professionals. The programs also connect scientists and growers with the general public.

Media References:

  • Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer) (+61 8) 6488 4481)
Food and Environment

Food and environmental security: opportunities for Australian agriculture

>>Press Release: June 4th 2014<<

Food production needs to double over the next half-century to accommodate increasing global population. Moreover, it will need to do so against the backdrop of environmental problems such as soil degradation, decreased biodiversity and increasingly frequent droughts that are likely to reduce agricultural productivity. It is thus becoming increasingly clear food and environmental security are interlinked. Environmental processes, so-called 'ecosystem services', such as soil-health-maintenance, waterway purification and pollination, are necessary for sustainable food production.

With this in mind, a forum entitled: "Food and Environmental Security: Australia's contribution" was hosted in April by the Crawford School of Public Policy, in an initiative by Justin Borevitz of the ARC Centre of Plant Energy Biology, supported by the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University.

Professor Lister said the epigenome was like a layer of information superimposed upon the genome, which could control the way the underlying genetic information encoded in the DNA was expressed. Millions of small molecules that tagged on to the genome acted as signposts to tell a cell to turn on or off nearby genes, he said.

The forum represented a telescoping view of agriculture, discussing the agricultural challenges and opportunities facing Australia and the world. Efforts to improve plant productivity at the molecular and cellular level were presented by Professor Murray Badger, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis at ANU. At the agronomic and crop level, guest speaker Professor David Lobell of the Stanford University Centre on Food Security and Environment, discussed global agriculture yield sensitivity to climate change.

continue reading...

Helping Australian farmers adapt their agricultural practices to climate change was discussed by Dr Mark Howden from the CSIRO, whilst Ms Mellissa Wood of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) presented Australia's efforts to spread agricultural know-how to developing-country farmers. Finally, Professor Robert Costanza of the Crawford School of Public Policy explained how ecosystem services are a major component of agricultural productivity and discussed ways of accounting for them.

Most significantly, forum speakers emphasised the need for agriculture to recognise and account for contributions ecosystem services make to farm productivity. Additionally, and to the surprise of some, it was noted how reformed agricultural practices can not only preserve but also remediate natural environments. For example, it was recently reported that, under the right conditions, Australian farms actually absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change (see:http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13376.html).

The 'big picture' view of the forum allowed attendees, from plant researchers to policy-makers, to see how their work contributed to improving Australian and world food security. By promoting such exchanges into the future, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology hopes to further refine its research priorities, leveraging plant productivity to address the twin challenges of food production and environmental regeneration.

More information regarding the "Food and Environmental Security: Australia's Contribution" forum, and videos of all forum presentations can be found at:



Green vaccination: boosting plant immunity without side effects

>>Tuesday, 29 April 2014<<

A team of international researchers has uncovered a mechanism by which plants are able to better defend themselves against disease causing pathogens.

The work led by Dr. Jurriaan Ton and Dr. Estrella Luna at the University of Sheffield in the UK and including scientists from The University of Western Australia, the University Jaume I in Spain and Utrecht University in The Netherlands, has been published in the international journal Nature Chemical Biology.

The scientists identified the key receptor binding a chemical called BABA (β-aminobutyric acid), which is boosting plant immunity.

BABA has long been known for its protective effects against devastating plant diseases, such as potato blight, but has so far not widely been used in crop protection because of undesirable side effects.

"We have found that the plant receptor binding BABA is an 'aspartyl tRNA synthetase' which we have called IBI1. This class of enzymes play a vital role in primary metabolism of all cells, but had never been linked to immune responses in plants. Binding of the chemical to this protein triggers a secondary function that 'primes' the plant immune system against future attacks by pests and diseases," Dr Luna said.

continue reading...

Dr Oliver Berkowitz, a Research Associate in the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the School of Plant Biology at UWA was also involved in the research.

"Importantly, our study also revealed that the undesirable side effect of this vaccination, a reduction in growth, can be uncoupled from the beneficial immune reaction," Dr Berkowitz said.

"Since plant immunisation by BABA is long-lasting, primed crops would require fewer applications of fungicides, thereby increasing sustainability of crop protection. Furthermore, immune priming boosts so-called 'multi-genic' resistance in plants. Plant immunity that is controlled by a single resistance gene, on which most conventional breeding programs are based, is comparably easy to overcome by a pathogen. By contrast, priming of multi-genic immunity by BABA is difficult to break, thus offering more durable crop protection," Dr Ton said.

Although their research has been performed in a weed called 'Arabidopsis thaliana', the work horse of plant geneticists, the team is confident that their discovery can be used for the protection of crops from their enemies. Proof-of-concept experiments have already shown that BABA is detected in a similar manner by tomato.

More information is available on the Ton lab blog and the journal website.

Media References:

  • Dr Oliver Berkowitz (ARC Center of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 4468)
  • David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 8) 32 637 716)
Ryan Lister

Epigenome researcher wins prestigious science medal

>>Press Release: Jan 2014<<

A genome biologist from The University of Western Australia who developed advanced techniques to accurately map millions of DNA modifications throughout the genome has won the Australian Academy of Science's Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for 2014.

Professor Ryan Lister, a Chief Investigator and Future Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at UWA, has been investigating the role of the epigenome throughout brain development and adulthood, focusing particularly on the major changes that occur in early childhood.

Professor Lister said the epigenome was like a layer of information superimposed upon the genome, which could control the way the underlying genetic information encoded in the DNA was expressed. Millions of small molecules that tagged on to the genome acted as signposts to tell a cell to turn on or off nearby genes, he said.

"We developed new genomics techniques that use large-scale DNA sequencing technologies to accurately map the exact location of these 'epigenetic' modifications of the DNA throughout the entire genome, which can be several billion letters long, whereas previously people could only study very small snippets of the genome at once," Professor Lister said.

continue reading...

He said these new maps had revealed many surprises about the composition of the epigenome, how it varied in different tissues and cell types in the body, how it changed over development and how it was disrupted in disease.

Professor Lister and his collaborators at UWA and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies then decided to investigate the role of the epigenome throughout brain development and adulthood, focusing particularly on the dramatic changes that occur in early childhood. Their discoveries, published in the journal Science, provided exciting new insights into the influence of the epigenome on gene regulation during critical stages of childhood development.

It was this work which earned Professor Lister the Academy's Ruth Stephens Gani Medal, to be presented in May at "Science at the Shine Dome", an annual gathering of Australia's foremost scientists. The medal, one of the Australian Academy of Science's annual awards, recognises distinguished research in human genetics and honours the contribution to science in human cytogenetics by the late Ruth Stephens Gani.

"Our work represents a significant leap in the understanding of how and why DNA is modified along the genome and how these 'epigenetic' modifications relate to normal and disease states in humans and plants," Professor Lister said.

The award was valuable because it helped promote the research he and his team at the Lister Lab were undertaking, he said.

"This is critical for getting young new scientists involved in this exciting and rapidly evolving field, for establishing new collaborations, and for communicating to the public the science that we are doing, why it's important, and how it may affect their lives," he said.

Professor Lister and his colleagues are now pursuing new lines of research into how the complex patterns of the epigenome are established and altered in normal and disease states, how the epigenome is altered by the surrounding environment, and how cells decide which genes to turn on or off.

"We're also developing new molecular tools to precisely and deliberately modify the epigenome in order to study its basic properties and to correct it when it is disturbed in states of disease or stress," he said.

The Ruth Stephens Gani Award is the second major prize in recent months for Professor Lister - he was also recognised as Western Australia's brightest young scientist in the Young Tall Poppy Awards, announced in November.

Media References:

  • Professor Ryan Lister (ARC Center of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 4407)
  • David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 8) 32 637 716)

Biological scientist named State's Tall Poppy

>>Press Release: Wednesday 27 November 2013<<

Professor Ryan Lister, a genome biologist and Future Fellow in the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology has been recognised as Western Australia's brightest young scientist in the 2013 Tall Poppy Awards.

Professor Lister, an expert in using advanced DNA sequencing technologies and computational biology to understand how the genomes of complex biological organisms work, was last night presented with his award at a reception held at Curtin University.

The Tall Poppy Awards recognise individuals who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating science and who demonstrate great leadership potential.

continue reading...

Other Tall Poppy Award winners included Dr Jean-Paul Hobbs, from UWA's Oceans Institute, Dr Louise Naylor from the UWA School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health and Adjunct Associate Professor Graeme Zosky and Dr Hannah Moore from the UWA-affiliated Telethon Institute for Child Health Research as well as Dr James Miller-Jones from Curtin University.

Professor Lister's research focuses on epigenetics and genomics. The epigenome - a molecular code superimposed upon the genome that controls how our genes are turned on and off - plays a pivotal role in normal development and disease/stress states in animals and plants.

Researchers had previously only been able to glimpse small snippets of this epigenetic information, but by developing new techniques utilizing cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology, Professor Lister was able to generate the first accurate whole epigenome maps for humans and plants.

His research is giving scientists critical insights into how the epigenome regulates gene expression and is perturbed in disease or stress, providing great leaps forward in our understanding of the epigenome will provide benefits to human health, regenerative medicine and agriculture.



>>Press Release: Friday 22 November 2013<<

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (ARC PEB) is the proud winner of the Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year last night at the 2013 Western Australian (WA) Science Awards.

The WA Science Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of the State's science community and highlight the important role of science in WA.

The Premier and Minister for Science, Colin Barnett, presented the award which recognises that the Science Engagement Initiative of the Year has made an outstanding contribution to community awareness, interest and/or participation in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Thanks to sponsorship by Chevron, the award comes with prize money of $10,000.

The ARC PEB outreach and educational programs include a variety of strategies to engage the community with plant science. These programs are advocating the importance of science with the aim to increase understanding of the significance of plants and their ability to capture, process and covert energy, focussing on engaging the general public, students, farmers and industry professionals. The programs also create a dialogue between scientists, growers and the general public.

continue reading...

"We would like to thank the Premier and Chevron for the award, it's an honour to be recognised for the hard work, commitment and innovation of our team" said Professor Harvey Millar. "The Centre is filled with staff who are passionate about science education and the many possibilities of science. Funding from the Australian Research Council has allowed us to develop truly innovative outreach programs, which have now been recognised by the Government of Western Australia."

"We would also like to thank our fantastic education and outreach collaborators, including the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), UWA Science Communication, Soxon Inflatables, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and Scitech."

The ARC PEB outreach programs include Bio-Bounce - the world's biggest (10 metre by 13 metre inflated structure) and bounciest cell, incorporating all the elements needed for the molecular function of plants. Plant science workshops and experiments for students and the general public, such as, Get into Genes - highlight the application of biotechnology to crop improvement. This program is a collaboration with ACPFG and Dairy Futures CRC.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is one of the world's top plant energy research centres, combining the expertise of more than 100 scientists from the University of Western Australia, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide. This award is a recognition of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's commitment to delivering excellent and engaging outreach and education programs.


ASPB Shull Award for Centre Deputy Director

>>Press Release: 2013<<

Prof Harvey Millar from the Centre has been awarded the Charles Albert Shull Award by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). This USA award for plant science was created in 1971 to honour the Society's founding father and the first editor-in-chief of Plant Physiology. The award is designed to recognize outstanding investigations in the field of plant biology by a scientist who is under 45 years of age. The award is open to both USA and international researchers of plant biology. This is the first time it has been awarded to an Australian researcher.

continue reading...

ASPB president Peggy Lemaux said "The Shull Award recognizes outstanding investigations in the field of plant biology and is being given this year to Harvey Millar (University of Western Australia) for his impressive body of research on plant mitochondria and bioinformatics. Harvey's work on the purification, proteomics, and metabolomics of mitochondria, and on the effects of oxidative stress on mitochondrial proteins, has provided important new insights into plant mitochondrial composition and function. In addition, the genome browser developed initially in his research group for proteo-genomic mapping has facilitated collaborative studies that resulted in publication of single-base resolution methylomes for Arabidopsis and humans. Harvey will address the Society at the annual meeting in 2014."

Click here to view the official ASPB Awards announcement.



>>Press Release: September 11, 2013<<

An international team of scientists led by the UK's John Innes Centre and including scientists from Australia, Japan, the US and France has perfected a way of watching genes move within a living plant cell. Using this technique scientists watched glowing spots, which marked the position of the genes, huddle together in the cold as the genes were switched "off".

The results, published in the international journal Genes & Development, reveal how genes respond to environmental changes in living organisms where previously plant genes were studied by cutting up plants, killing the cells and fixing them to glass slides.

"What is remarkable about this finding is that we saw genes move within the nucleus in response to changes in the environment, and that this movement seems to be involved in genetic control," Associate Professor Josh Mylne said.

continue reading...

"The gene we studied (FLC) allows plants to respond to changes in the season. When FLC gets turned off (by cold), the plant starts to make flowers instead of leaves. We knew FLC was switched off by cold, but we had no idea that FLC genes would congregate as they get switched off."

"Studying gene motion could improve our understanding of how environmental cues and nurture impact on nature and gene expression," said first author Dr Stefanie Rosa from the John Innes Centre.

The study Physical clustering of FLC alleles during Polycomb-mediated epigenetic silencing in vernalization was supported in part by the Australian Research Council.

Associate Professor Mylne initiated the scientific approach almost a decade ago as he embarked on his career in the UK. He is an ARC Future Fellow at The University of Western Australia's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

"What we want to know now is what is happening at these sites where the genes are congregating," Associate Professor Mylne said. "Are the genes going somewhere special inside the cell? What takes them there and how do the chromosomes move and let the genes congregate? How many other genes congregate like this when they get turned off? There are so many new questions this discovery will help us answer."



>>Press Release: July 3, 2013<<

ICAR Conference Highlights

Last week, the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research was chaired by Centre Chief Investigator Barry Pogson in Sydney, Australia.

At the conference, scientists revealed that plants are able tell the time to manage how much "food" they eat at night, so that they never get the night time munchies.

Mark Stitt, from the Max-Planck Institute in Germany, showed that plants use an inbuilt biological clock to set the rate at which they breakdown starch at night.

Starch is plant food made and stored during the day. At night, the starch is broken down and used for plant growth and yield. Research by Alison Smith and Alex Graf at the John Innes Centre, Norwich UK and Mark Stitt revealed that the plant's clock dictates how fast the starch stores are broken down, so that it meets the rising sun with an empty stomach. Remarkably, they time this so precisely that they never run out of starch early or have too much left over.

continue reading...

"This goes to show that plants have an unexpected ability to measure how much starch they have made during the day by photosynthesis and then set a rate to use it for growth during the night." said Mark Stitt.

Prof Barry Pogson from the ANU and the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology said that, "The way plants tell time is similar to the mechanism in humans that results in us getting jetlag when we change time-zones, something a number of the scientists who travelled from 26 countries have felt at this meeting."

"By being able to understand the relationship between plants and their environment, we can decode the control systems which regulate plant growth and energy use. This kind of information helps scientists get the most out of plants in order to produce more food from the same amount of land."



Bio-Bounce, the Giant Inflatable Plant Cell

Jump into the plant cell!

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is the proud developer of the world's biggest and bounciest cell: a 10 metre by 13 metre inflated structure which incorporates all the elements needed for the molecular function of plants.

To create the giant inflatable, a plant cell has been enlarged one million times. "A picture in a book just can't demonstrate the extraordinary level of activity that goes on in a cell," said developer Alice Trend. "It's a really exciting place! We have managed to turn the theoretical - something you could only try to picture in your head - into something that you can climb inside and get immersed in."

One of the main drivers behind Bio-Bounce, the Giant Plant Cell is to create an educational tool that helps the community better understand how cells work and why researchers study them. We believe this will help the community make informed choices on new technologies in biology. Getting people excited about science is also a major aim of the Giant Cell.

"Bio-Bounce" will be on display and open to the public on the 24th and 25th of June at Palm Grove, Darling Harbour to coincide with the 24th International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR) at the Sydney Convention Centre.

View image slideshow...


plant cellHide




Inside the nucleus

Using props inside the nucleus, visitors learn how genes work.


Ribosome, ER and people products!Hide

A close up shot of the ribosome and endoplasmic reticulum.

Here, visitors can learn about how proteins are made.




Visitors learn about photosynthesis in the chloroplast.


Inside cellHide

A bouncy approach to education.

Some examples of where you can see Bio-Bounce in 2013:

Darling Harbour, Sydney

  • 24-25th June, 2013.
  • Palm Grove, Darling Harbour Sydney.
  • Coincides with the ICAR conference, Sydney Convention Centre.
  • http://www.sallyjayconferences.com.au/icar2013/

Perth, WA

  • 11th August, 2013
  • UWA Open Day, UWA
  • http://www.openday.uwa.edu.au/
  • 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA

Bunbury, WA

  • 17th August, 2013
  • South West Super Science Spectacular
  • http://www.scienceweek.net.au/southwest-super-science-spectacular/
  • Ocean Forest Lutheran College, 133 Norton Promenade, Dalyellup, WA, 6230

Canberra, ACT

  • 4-6th October, 2013
  • Floriade
  • http://www.floriadeaustralia.com/
  • Minimise

Corporate Triathlon Triumph - 3 years running

>>Press Release: 2/5/13<<

Once again, Perth has been left reeling in the wake of ARC Plant Energy Biology's energetic scientists.

The 2013 Nissan Corporate Triathlon ladies division was taken out for the third year running by our super team of Kate Howell, Cathie Colas des Francs-Small and Sandra Tanz. To our delight, the surprise package of Dori Hahne, Xu Lin and Peter Kindgren won the mixed team category and placed SECOND overall in a field of thousands.

continue reading...

Our all-male team of Olivier Van Aken, John Bussell and Jens also worked well to place 29th overall. Congratulations everyone, you did us proud.

Image credit: Joanna Melonek


Aaron Yap on ABC Science Show!

>>Press Release: 22/2/13<<

Interview on cellular processes governing production of proteins from DNA

Following his talk's success at COMBIO, Aaron has been interviewed by Robyn Williams for ABC's Science Show.

In the interview, Aaron describes the cellular processes governing production of proteins from DNA and explains his role in the recent PLOS Genetics publication: A Combinatorial Amino Acid Code for RNA Recognition by Pentatricopeptide Repeat Proteins.http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1002910

To listen to the interview, please visit the ABC website: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/quality-control-in-protein-production/4428470

Tiago Tomaz: Fulbright Scholar

>>Press Release: 22/3/13<<

Last night, recent PhD graduate Dr Tiago Tomaz was presented with a Fulbright Scholarship at Parliament House.

Tiago, who currently works at the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, will go to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from January 2014.

While a student at the UWA-based Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, Tiago's thesis investigated the way plants "breathe" and produce energy in a process called respiration. "A key finding from his research was that removing two proteins involved in plant respiration can increase levels of Vitamin C and have big effects on plant growth" said Professor Harvey Millar, Tiago's PhD supervisor from ARC Plant Energy Biology at UWA.

continue reading...

The ability to increase a plant's Vitamin C content - a natural antioxidant - has many implications for improving the current approach to dietary vitamin supplements and developing antioxidant-rich foods. This knowledge may also help create plants better able to withstand environmental stressors associated with climate change.

"My time as an undergraduate student at UWA, and postgraduate researcher at ARC Plant Energy Biology gave me a clear route to pursuing my passion for the environment," said Tiago. "I'm now looking to build upon the knowledge and techniques learnt at UWA, by applying these outside the laboratory in field-based research on crop plants." He currently works in a team seeking to develop the drought and cold tolerance of popular Australian wheat varieties.

In the US, Tiago will be using his Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship to join a research team to enhance ozone tolerance capabilities of maize, one of the world's major cereals, and a key crop for agriculture in a hotter, drier climate.

'Elevated ground level ozone concentrations, the result of ever increasing air pollutants, pose a significant threat to the productivity of major cereal crops' said Tiago, 'I will be screening for ozone-tolerant maize plants for use in future breeding programs.'


Kai Xun Chan - winner!

>>Press Release: 19/3/13<<

ANU Hiro Naora Award

The stage was set and the competition was stiff. There were 54 talks by aspiring plant science PhD's at the ANU Research School of Biology PhD Student Conference.

Second year PhD student Kai Xun Chan took the stage and gave an excellent talk on his research into signalling between the chloroplast and the nucleus (cellular control centre) under stress conditions such as high light and drought.

continue reading...

There are 700 changes in gene expression (mRNA) after one hour of stress conditions in the chloroplast, making it an excellent environmental sensor for the cell.

For his clear and informative talk into his findings on how a gene called SAL1 is regulated during stress, Kai took home the Hiro Naora Award for Plant Science. This award recognises the best speaker in their field at the event.

Kai is a member of Barry Pogson's group, who are particularly interested in secondary sulphur metabolism in cells during stress (see Chan et al 2013 Trends in Plant Science for review). This is important because secondary sulphur metabolism is responsible for the production of stress-responsive retrograde signals such as PAP (Estavillo et al 2011 Plant Cell). In fact, the group recently found that mutating a gene called SAL1 results in a build-up of the small molecule PAP in the nucleus, closing the leaf stomata and creating drought resistance in the cell.

From his training with the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the ANU, Kai describes the most important skills he has learnt while so far are critical thinking and effective communication with a general audience. Indeed! Well done Kai!


Welcome Josh Mylne!

>>Press Release: 1/2/13<<

ARC PEB and the UWA School of Chemistry and Biochemisty have officially welcomed 2012 Goldacre Medal Winner and ARC Future Fellow Josh Mylne on board.

His new lab, which focuses on a blend of genetics and biochemistry, will collaborate closely with PEB research teams.

Let's get to know Josh a little better:

continue reading...

What Got You Interested In Biology, And Specifically, Plants?

I had an awesome high school biology teacher, Ted Brambleby. I vividly remember the classroom full of bubbling fish tanks, pickled specimens (mostly marine) and the reek of formaldehyde. At university I started with a general biology degree. I'm not entirely sure why I gradually whittled away zoology in favour of botany, but I went on and did my PhD on Arabidopsis with my favourite university lecturer Jimmy Botella who had recently joined UQ from Spain.

What Are Your Career Highlights?

I loved the concentration of plant biologists at the John Innes Centre (2001-2005) and have come to miss being savaged by the Dean bulldog (an affectionate term for the repartee that followed the Dean lab talks). Other highlights were the two days (in 2007 and 2012) when I scrolled down the PDF list to see I had my QEII then Future Fellowships - each marked the beginning of new chapters. The first secured a career in science, the second meant I would have my own lab at UWA in Perth.

What research projects will you be pursuing in the Centre?

I'm quite keen to understand how new proteins evolve and how easily they 'appear'. We're doing some very practical things too, but this what I'm most curious about. We're looking at these questions initially by studying the genetic events that created drug-like proteins found in plants.

In Your Opinion, What Will Be The Most Important Discoveries Of The 21st Century?

Globally, I'd like to think big advances in the technology for solar energy capture and storage will reduce the footprint we leave on the planet. Personally, I'd like someone to make sub-dermal implants that replace wallets, keys and phones.

Where Can People Find Out About Doing Science In Your Team? www.mylne.org


Gates foundation funds research into photosynthesis for improvement of crops

>>Press Release: 14/12/12<<

Ask plant scientists their worst fear about the future, and they might tell you that it's a meltdown in world food production.

The Earth's population is expected to increase 50% by 2050 and the UN predicts that we will need to increase our crop yields by 70% to feed everyone.

Professor Murray Badger, co-recipient of a breakthrough grant from the Gates Foundation explains, "This increase in food supply is a massive ask of agriculture. Conventional breeding techniques simply cannot deliver this increase in food. In this collaborative effort, we are seeking to understand the fundamental reaction at the centre of all life on Earth - photosynthesis - to help feed the world."

"I believe that photosynthesis is the remaining yield increase frontier to be exploited for world crop improvement."

continue reading...

Professor Badger, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at Australian National University will contribute to this international project by focusing on importing algal mechanisms for carbon dioxide concentration into crop plants.

How does this work? There is a small enzyme - or working protein - called "Rubisco" at the heart of plant cells which is responsible for the first step of photosynthesis - taking carbon dioxide out of the air. A current limitation with crop production is that Rubisco fails at high temperatures (over 25 degrees C). This leads to lower crop yields and potentially, higher use of fertilisers and water to compensate.

However, there is a subset of plants which have evolved to be better operators in these conditions. "C4" plants increase the concentration of carbon dioxide available to Rubisco in plant cells and therefore speeds up photosynthesis and crop yield, even at hotter temperatures. Natural examples of C4 plants include maize, sugarcane, some native Australian species and some unicellular algae, which show C-4 like photosynthesis supercharging characteristics.

One mechanism of particular interest to Professor Badger is a bicarbonate transporter in algae which actively carries CO2 into the photosynthetic cells and force feeds CO2 to Rubisco. The group's aim is to engineer these transporters into crop plants, resulting in greater growth rates and higher crop yields. The group will also screen a variety of plants to identify more efficient natural forms of Rubisco for future work.

The importance of this work has been recognised by a $7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which will see researchers from the University of Illinois, the Universities of Essex, Berkley, Louisiana State, Shanghai and Rothamsted Research and ANU working in collaboration. The interdisciplinary, international team brings together several different approaches and a lot of expertise towards supercharging crop plants.

Congratulations Murray, these leaps forward in our understanding of the inner workings of plant cells will be critical for our food and fuel future.

More here: http://phys.org/wire-news/116567482/university-of-illinois-to-improve-crop-yield-through-photosynthe.html


When plants get hungry

>>Press Release: 10/12/12<<

The effect of low phosphate supply on the proteome of Arabidopsis thaliana suspension culture cells

When Sandra Kerbler picked up one of fifteen Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in the world from the American Society of Plant Biologists, little did she know her undergraduate work would not only compete with PhD student work from Western Australian universities, but go on to win the "Proteomics" section of the Biomics Student Poster Presentation.

During her undergraduate project, Sandra was co-supervised by Plant Biology and ARC Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia. Sandra was interested in how plants use phosphate, a macronutrient that often limits plant growth, development and productivity.

continue reading...

Phosphate plays a pivotal structural and regulatory role linking photosynthesis, carbon metabolism and energy conservation, however low phosphate availability and/or mobility are common in soil. To overcome this, plants have evolved a variety of morphological, physiological, biochemical and molecular responses.

As phosphate fertilisers are both crucial to plant production and declining in availability worldwide, increasing studies have discovered physiological responses to phosphate limitation. However, the molecular events that monitor, transmit and respond to the internal and external plant phosphate levels are yet to be fully characterized.

Sandra used a "proteomics" approach to investigate whole cell changes in protein abundance and phosphorylation status associated with decreased phosphate supply in Arabidopsis cells grown in suspension culture. Proteins which changed significantly included those involved in intermediary carbon metabolism, energy production, protein degradation, stress (heat-shock proteins), amino acid synthesis, translation and cell signaling.

Together, these results are expected to provide vital insights into the workings of the phosphate-signaling pathway and provide protein candidates for further analysis. Well done Sandra!


WA termite guts could be a valuable resource of novel bacterial species

>>Press Release: 29/11/12<<

Poster winner at Biomics

Ghislaine Small was foraging for termite gold this year. She was searching for bacteria inside termite guts which allow them to break down cellulose - or plant material. Understanding how bacteria break down cellulose could have a great impact on our ability to produce biofuels, among many other things.

For her Honours project, Ghislaine collected termites from 6 colonies across two sites in WA. By analysing the contents of the termites' guts using a powerful MiSeq DNA sequencer to do "metagenomics", Ghislaine found that the gut communities of two separate termite species (Tumulitermes westraliensis, found only in WA and Coptotermes acinaciformis, the worst pest species in Australia), were significantly different in the abundance and diversity of the bacterial species present.

continue reading...

In fact, over half of the gut bacteria from T. westraliensis, a species only found in WA, have never been identified before.

Ghislaine presented her findings at the Biomics student poster session last week where Honours and PhD students representing all WA universities presented their research, where she won second prize in the "Genomics" section. The prize included free attendance to the OMICS Australasia Symposium in Fremantle this week.

This work is exciting as many abundant bacteria are potential cellulose degraders, so endemic termite species could be a source of novel bacterial species and enzymes. Congratulations Ghislaine!


Plant Energy Photo Competition Winners

>>Press Release: Oct 11th, 2012<<

Beautiful Science!

Dear Competitors and Judges,

We are really grateful for another year of fantastic images from our staff, their families and our valued collaborators. A huge thank you to the judges for helping us to make this happen. Congratulations to the winners - their beautiful images can be seen in the slideshow below. Please note, the portrait orientation images will not display as well in this format, and can be better viewed on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/PlantEnergy.

View image slideshow...



1st Place "General" Category

Photo: Devon Ward (CIBER, UWA)

A star is born

A star is bornHide

2nd Place "General" Category

Photo: Catherine Colas des Francs-Small (PEB, UWA)

Death Trap

Death TrapHide

3rd Place "General" Category

Photo: Catherine Colas des Francs-Small (PEB, UWA)

Arrested Development

Arrested DevelopmentHide

1st Place "Sciecne" Category

Photo: Kai Xun Chan (PEB, ANU)



2nd Place "Science" Category

Photo: Ali Smith

Alexander Stain

Alexander StainHide

3rd Place "Science" Category

Photo: Szymon Kubiszewski-Jakubiak (PEB, UWA)

Out Bush

Out BushHide

1st Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Devon Ward (CIBER, UWA)

DNA extraction

DNA extractionHide

2nd Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Alice Trend (PEB, ANU)

What DNA looks like

What DNA looks likeHide

3rd Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Rachel Shingaki-Wells (PEB, UWA)


Winners in category:


  • 1st Kai Xun Chan (Pogson Lab, ANU)
  • 2nd Ali Smith (Smith Lab, UWA)
  • 3rd Szymon Kubiszewski-Jakubiak (Whelan Lab, UWA)


  • 1st Devon Ward (CIBER/SymbioticA UWA)
  • 2nd Catherine Colas des Francs (Small Lab, UWA)
  • 3rd Catherine Colas des Francs (Small Lab, UWA)


  • 1st Devon Ward (CIBER/SymbioticA UWA)
  • 2nd Alice Trend (Trend Lab (?), UWA)
  • 3rd Rachel Shingaki-Wells (Millar Lab, UWA)

Congratulations for Conny Hooper at CBSM

>>Press Release: 28th August, 2012<<

Winner of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia Poster Prize

New Centre scientist Conny Hooper is only a recent convert to plant science.

In fact, just last week she took home the Human Genetics Society of Australasia poster prize at the Combined Biological Sciences Meeting for her PhD work profiling childhood brain tumours.

continue reading...

By comparing the transcript profiles (gene-products) from healthy and cancerous samples in the developing brain, Conny identified surprising "signatures" representing different stages of brain development. The differences between healthy cells and brain tumour cells suggested that the cell types originated from distinct areas and time periods in the brain. She also found several genes that may have contributed to the cancer development and may be useful as clinical markers.

These fantastic results were described in her poster "Developmental-Intersect-Analysis using human Neural Stem and Precursor Cells identifies Candidate Genes involved in Childhood Medulloblastoma Pathogenesis".

Computational biology is a powerful and relatively new tool that is applicable across all fields of biology. We are delighted to welcome Dr Hooper into our ranks to help us uncover how plant genes and their products are matched to overall plant performance and yield.


Student Success at the Combined Biological Sciences Meeting

>>Press Release: 27th August, 2012<<

Prizes for Aaron Yap and Clement Boussardon

Each year COMBIO brings together scientists from multiple disciplines across Western Australia to share ideas and science, so we were delighted with 2 wins for plant energy biology from the 15 student categories.

continue reading...

Aaron Yap won the State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre Student Oral Presentation Prize for his intriguing talk on finding the mechanism behind how pentatricopeptide repeat proteins (PPR) bind to RNA molecules - a discovery with significant promise for future agriculture and medicine.

The Annals of Botany Student Poster Prize was taken home by Clement for his poster titled "Characterizing the role of the DYW1 protein in the chloroplast RNA editing machinery". Clement's poster showed important evidence for an enzyme called DYW1's involvement in the editing process carried out by PPRs.

Congratulations to both of you! COMBIO website

South Australian Tall Poppy Award

>>Press Release: 24th August, 2012<<

Awarded to Matthew Gilliham

As both a clever scientist and creative communicator, Matthew Gilliham has won a South Australian Tall Poppy award this week.

Tall Poppy Awards recognise scientists who are not only able to deliver scientific breakthroughs, but can effectively promote their science in the wider community.

continue reading...

Earlier this year, Matt had success with a Nature paper describing a salt tolerance gene in wheat capable of delivering a 25% increase in yields on salty soils. His ability and interest in talking to the media about his research in a clear and engaging manner was obviously noted by the judges!

This year Matt has also been awarded the Viticulture & Oenology 2012 Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and a fellowship by the GO8 Australia-China Young Researchers Exchange Program. Congratulations Dr Gilliham!

For more information, please visit



Molecular Code Cracked

>>Press Release: 17th August 2012 <<

Potential for future treatments of genetic disease

Our scientists have cracked a code underlying recognition of RNA molecules by a superfamily of RNA-binding proteins called pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins. This opens the way to destroying or correcting defective gene products, such as those that cause genetic disorders in humans.

continue reading...
Professor Ian Small Photo: Centre Director, Professor Ian Small

When a gene is switched on, it is copied into RNA. This RNA is then used to make proteins that are required by the organism for all of its vital functions. If a gene is defective, its RNA copy and the proteins made from this will also be defective. This forms the basis of many terrible genetic disorders in humans.

RNA-binding PPR proteins could revolutionise the way we treat disease. Their secret is their versatility - they can find and bind a specific RNA molecule, and have the capacity to correct it if it is defective, or destroy it if it is detrimental. They can also help ramp up production of proteins required for growth and development.

The new paper in PLOS Genetics describes for the first time how PPR proteins recognise their RNA targets via an easy-to-understand code. This mechanism mimics the simplicity and predictability of the pairing between DNA strands described by Watson and Crick 60 years ago, but at a protein/RNA interface.

This exceptional breakthrough comes from an international, interdisciplinary research team including UWA researchers Ian Small and Aaron Yap from the ARC for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and Charlie Bond and Yee Seng Chong from UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, along with Alice Barkan's team at the University of Oregon. This research was publicly funded by the ARC and the WA State Government in Australia and the NSF in the USA.

"Many PPR proteins are vitally important, but we don't know what they do. Now we've cracked the code, we can find out," stated Ian Small. "What's more, we can now design our own synthetic proteins to target any RNA sequence we choose - this should allow us to control the expression of genes in new ways that just weren't available before. The potential is really exciting."

"This discovery was made in plants but is applicable across many species as PPR proteins are found in humans and animals too," says Charlie Bond.

Media References:


"Epic" Genetics

>>Press Release: 1st August 2012<<

Ryan Lister joins Centre

The University of Western Australia has released a statement celebrating the appointment of Professor Ryan Lister to our team at ARC Plant Energy Biology.

continue reading...

Originally trained by the Centre's Chief Investigators, Ryan has carved out a sterling career at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies by studying the factors that regulate the information stored in the genome - the entire set of genes in a cell. This field of genome regulation, called "epigenetics", investigates how chemical tags can be attached to the genome to affect the way that genes are expressed, without changing the underlying DNA sequence.

The field is gathering momentum as possibilities such as switching off disease-causing genes in humans or increasing the amount of energy-producing or stress-tolerating proteins in plants are beginning to be realised.

Professor Lister, who published seminal papers in Nature and Cell with Julian Tonti-Fillipini, is continuing to work on exciting epigenetics and genomics projects in the Centre and is looking for new students to join and become involved with the research.

Visit http://listerlab.org/ for details.


Dinkum Science for Dunny Doors

>>Press Release: 30th July, 2012<<

Scientific Posters for National Science Week

Did you know that Uranus contains fart gases? That Australia's wheat feeds 100 million people a year? Or that the inside of a cell looks strangely like an image from outer space?

continue reading...

All these facts and more will be on display on the back of toilet doors across Darwin and Perth leading up to National Science Week in August.

Look out for posters at shopping centres and several pubs that explain your evolution, guess which image comes from inside a cell or space, ponder the power of plants and find amazing similarities between Uranus and your anus.

"Our science posters aim to inspire people towards a curiosity and amazement about science, all in the comfort of their own cubicle," says Alice Trend, Science Communications Officer at the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.

"Australia really is a clever country and we want to spark more of an interest in the incredible work our scientists are conducting in a wide variety of fields," says Kirsten Gottschalk, Outreach and Education Officer at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

The posters are a collaboration between science communicators from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and ICRAR funded by a National Science Week grant.

The venues that will be showing the posters include: Perth Airport, Lakeside Joondalup Shopping Centre (SC), Armadale City SC, Floreat Forum SC, Casuarina Square, The Cavenagh, Squires Tavern, The Balcony Bar, Shennaningan's and Monsoons' Bar.

National Science Week runs from August 11-19 and you can get involved in many great events. If you would like exciting science posters to jazz up your school or business for National Science Week, you can download and distribute copies and images from here.

The initiative is supported by the Australian Government and The University of Western Australia as part of National Science Week.

Media References:


A New CI for the Centre!

>>Press Release: 1st July, 2013<<

Professor Steve Tyerman

We are delighted to announce that Professor Steve Tyerman of the University of Adelaide has joined the Centre as a Chief Investigator.

Professor Tyerman has researched nutrition, salinity and water relations in plants for some 25 years.

continue reading...

Steve's expertise will bring an increased focus to water and nutrient transport, whole plant physiology and an ability functionally characterise transporter genes that may be of interest.

About Professor Tyerman: In 2001 Steve obtained the Wine Industry Chair of Viticulture at the University of Adelaide, which has provided opportunities to apply his research to grapevine root physiology. He has received several awards for his plant physiology research and was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2003. He has won a prestigious Australian Research Council Professorial Fellowship to investigate the link between calcium transport and water transport in plants.


Annual Retreat 2012

>>Press Release: 24th Apr, 2012<<

April 30th to May 2nd, 2012

Every year in April, scientists across Australia travel to Perth to discuss the past, present and future of plant energy biology.

This year, the Centre's annual retreat will be held at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia. The retreat will feature exciting talks from new Centre scientists, the usual suspects from within the Centre and a variety of external speakers. These external speakers include Josh Heazlewood (Plant Systems Biology, Joint BioEnergy Institute), Josh Mylne (Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ), Laurent Nussaume (Laboratory of Plant Development Biology, CEA), Per Gardestrom (Plant Physiology, Umeå University), Geoff Fincher (ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls) and Justin Borevitz (Research School of Biology, ANU).

The Winning Team!

>>Press Release: 28th March, 2012<<

Biologists Triumph Over Perth's Corporate Elite

What's faster than a speeding lawyer, more powerful than a mining magnate, and able to leap tall tradesman in a single bound? A sprint triathlon team from Plant Energy Biology of course!

continue reading...

Congratulations too all the teams which took part in this year's Nissan Corporate Triathlon Series at the Perth foreshore, especially to our girls team: Green Energy 1 which was able to defend their winning title from last year. Dr's Sandra Tanz, Kate Howell and Cathie Colas des Francs-Small trained hard and were formidable on the day, blitzing the rest of the field.

Honourable mentions also go to Green Energy Team 2, 3 and 4 who took out 3rd, 27th and 21st places (respectively) in the males division and Green Energy 5 who were 52nd in the mixed division.

Olivier Van Aken has promised that, "Green Energy 3 will place in the top 10 next year or I will do the funky chicken."


Centre Author Recognised as Editor's Choice

>>Press Release: 19th March 2012<<

New information on the intriguing karrikin story

A recent paper in Development by Centre author Mark Waters has been picked as Editor's Choice this week in Science Signaling.

The research uncovers exciting new information on the intriguing karrikin story, which is becoming more interesting and complex the more it is unravelled.

continue reading...

In this latest work, two related genes were found that are able to distinguish between the karrikin and strigolactone signalling molecules. Karrikins are plant growth regulatory molecules that derive from smoke, whereas strigolactones are made within the plant and are thought to play a role in controlling shoot branching as well as germination. The ability to differentiate between these molecules is important as they are very similar on a molecular level, but play very different roles in plant biology.

❝ It's like having two keys to open two different doors of the same control box. Each key has to match the correct lock but both get access to the controls ❞
Dr Waters

Researcher, Matthew Gilliham

Salt-tolerant Gene Found

>>Press Release: 15th March, 2012<<

Ancestral salt pump gene brought out of retirement

Years ago, careful physiological screening of ancient wheat varieties turned up an ancestral wheat relative that was able to survive on soils so salty that most crop plants would die. This week, Nature Biotechnology published research that successfully characterised the gene responsible for this salt tolerance trait. Furthermore, remarkable results were demonstrated when this gene was "bred" back into a common wheat variety, increasing its salinity survival 25% (Nature Biotechnology).

continue reading...

The research, led by Dr Matthew Gilliham of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Adelaide, was an example of the power of a strong collaborative research effort that also involved researchers at CSIRO and the ACPFG.

Australia's salt-stricken wheat industry are taking notice of the 25% increase in grain yield shown in this study under saline conditions.

Over 20% of Australia's agriculture land is classified and saline and 69% of Australia's wheat belt is susceptible to salinity," explains Dr Matthew Gilliham. "There are many reasons for this, but as wheat has been bred for millennia in favourable conditions for traits like yield, many desirable traits like salt tolerance have been lost along the way.

Interestingly, the salt-tolerant ancestral gene was found in one of the first domesticated wheats, which yields very poorly compared to modern commercial varieties. Researchers at CSIRO used conventional breeding to selectively deliver the salt tolerance gene without also transferring the unfavourable characteristics, a process which took over ten years.

Dr Gilliham led the effort to discover the gene of interest, which encodes a salt transporter that pumps salt out of the vascular system of the plant. This transporter stops salt from accumulating in the leaves where it interferes with processes such as photosynthesis which impacts crop yield.

"What I like about this research," says Centre Director Ian Small, "is the marriage between the molecular biology in the lab that explains how the gene works, and the clever breeding techniques that have created a new variety which has been field-tested and proven effective. Normally scientists only get to cover a small aspect of this kind of research, so to see this through to fruition is very satisfying for Matt Gilliham and Steve Tyerman in our new Centre team in Adelaide. What a start they have made!"

❝Now that we have specific knowledge about the gene, its function and how it is inherited, we hope to transfer this knowledge to other crop plants of interest and to increase the salt tolerance of crop plants even further,❞ says Dr Gilliham.

❝We haven't solved the problem, we have just put one piece back in the puzzle. There are other aspects to the salt-tolerance story and more genes to identify and characterise. These are the next challenges we have set ourselves through our research,❞ adds Dr Gilliham.

click here for more news items

Winners of Plant Video Competition Announced!

>>Press Release: 14th June, 2012<<

Secondary students share in winnings.

The Fascination with Plants Day video competition attracted 42 entries from across Australia. The competition asked secondary students to put together a 3 minute video which showed Australians why they thought plants were fascinating. After much deliberation by judges, the winners have been announced!

continue reading...



First Prize Dominic Hill, Canberra Grammar School

Second Prize Anthony Rositano and Douglas Gerard, Prince Alfred College

Merit Award Esmy Fabry, Heathfield High School

Merit Award Harmony Knill, Glenunga International High School

Merit Award Lily Kerr, Bunbury Catholic College


First Prize Kathryn Law, Investigator College

Second Prize Isabella Rositano, Pembroke School

Merit Award Emily McEvoy, Investigator College

Merit Award Senior Class, Lajamanu Community Education Centre

Merit Award Rose Kerr, Bunbury Catholic College

"This video competition has shown that students are indeed, fascinated by plants, and have some great ideas about how to vocalise this interest," said Alice Trend, one of the judges of the competition. "Congratulations to everyone that took part."

To see the winning entries and find out why these students think plants are fascinating, follow the link http://www.acpfg.com.au/videocomp/index.php?id=16

Media References:

Plant emerging from seed

Celebrating Life On Earth With Fascination Of Plants Day

>>Press Release: 16th May 2012<<

Friday May 18th!

Without plants, life on earth as we know it would simply not exist. They make the food we eat, create the oxygen we breathe and remove our waste carbon dioxide from the air. This Friday May 18th, the world celebrates plants with Fascination of Plants Day.

So why are plants fascinating?

continue reading...

Did you know that each year, a family of four survives on the oxygen produced by two trees? That the world's plants produce six times more energy than humans consume? That a colony of bees has to fly 177,500 km and pollinate 4 million flowers to make one kilogram of honey?

There are 9 billion people predicted by 2050, which will effectively double the demand for food, feed and fibre. Scientists around the world are working together to solve this critical problem by improving plant yields, while minimising the environmental footprint of growing crop plants.

Australian scientists are making amazing progress towards plants with higher salt and pest tolerance, greater yields and higher nutritive value. Just as importantly, they are also investigating crops which require less water and fertiliser, and even crops that can access the billions of tonnes of unusable forms of fertiliser that are currently locked in our soils.

Ian Small, Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia commented that, "May 18th is a great day to think about what plants mean to human survival, and the importance of research into plants, food and agriculture."

Events such as national plant video and photography competitions for students; tours and workshops at plant research facilities including Monash University, The University of Western Australia and CSIRO Plant Industries and wine tours at Penfolds Magill Estate will highlight the importance of plants this week.

To find out what Fascination of Plants Day events are happening near you, visit http://www.plantday12.eu/australia.htm

Parched Earth


>>Press Release: Jan 11, 2011<<

Finding new signals for plant cells

Scientists have found a signal in plants which may act as a drought alarm, allowing them to adapt to drought conditions. The signal was discovered while trying to understand how different parts of the cell "talk" to each other under drought conditions in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of canola.

continue reading...

Inside every animal and plant cell there are a series of connected pathways, like the production lines of a factory. For it to work efficiently, each department must be able to communicate product shortages, adverse conditions or breakdowns. In cells, the production lines, or pathways, are regulated by chemical signals and inputs, which can come from many sources.

Scientists have proposed for a while that chemical signals must be sent by a particular "plant department", or organelle, to the nucleus - the cell's control centre - for plants to become aware of and adapt to harsh conditions.

"The chloroplast is the plant organelle that converts light into food. The nucleus directs assembly and function of the chloroplast and this requires cross-talk between the two", Dr Estavillo said.

Despite these signals being proposed, they have been greatly debated and the signalling mechanisms for "talk" remain unclear.

But now, research on a mutant variety of Arabidopsis has lead to the discovery of a signal to the nucleus which is important in the plant response to drought. This research was lead by Dr Gonzalo Estavillo and Prof. Barry Pogson at the Australian National University node of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (Estavillo et al. (2011) The Plant Cell).

The Arabidopsis mutant plant lacked a protein called SAL1, which breaks down a small molecule further down the production line called "PAP". As the protein was absent, the production line was broken, so "PAP", which is usually found in the chloroplast, ended up building up in the nucleus. Surprisingly, this became a kind of drought alarm, telling the plant to save water. Consequently these mutant plants survived 50% longer in drought conditions.

More importantly, the researchers found that normal plants also accumulated PAP during drought conditions and that the PAP molecule was able to move between the chloroplast and the nucleus.

"We intend to fully investigate the potential of this remarkable PAP signal", says Dr Estavillo.

❝ It's a great time to be a plant scientist. We have the technology to decipher tiny and crucial molecular pathways in cells and use this knowledge to improve plant breeding and genetics. After all, plants are our food and fuel future. ❞

Harvey Millar

Early Career Excellence

>>Press Release: 20th Dec 2011<<

Putting the 'pro' in proteomics

Professor Harvey Millar has been awarded the 2012 Fenner Medal by the Australian Academy of Science. This award recognises distinguished research in biology by a scientist under 40.

Professor Millar has built a remarkable career in the 14 years since he graduated from The Australian National University with a PhD in biochemistry. Now based at the University of Western Australia, he is a Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and Director of the new UWA Centre for Comparative Analysis of Biomolecular Networks.

continue reading...

Harvey 's passion is proteins and how they work. In the field of proteomics, scientists analyse the protein products made when genes are switched on and all the downstream modifications that make them work. This allows researchers to get meaningful information about how plants cope with changing environmental conditions and to find genes of interest for drought, flood, salinity or pest tolerance in plants. The proteomics laboratory he leads is ranked among the top 25 in the world.

Harvey's passion for science is apparent. "I vividly remember Harvey describing the molecular sciences to me as an Honours student in 2002," says Science Communications Officer Alice Trend. "He described us as modern explorers, finding out things no one has ever known before, seeing things that no one has ever seen. That will continue to have an impact on my interest in science for the rest of my life."

Still committed to this vision of discovery, Harvey's research group has recently uncovered a potential mechanism for rescuing wheat seedlings from flooding, a new role for free radical molecules in pathogen sensing, and are working to keep honeybees healthy to maintain pollination. Over the past decade his research has focused on respiration, energy production in cells, and its response to environmental stress.

❝To have my research recognised in this way is exciting" said Prof Millar. "Finding out how plants work at a molecular level is of critical importance right now, in a world faced with dwindling resources and climate change. Research in biology is very much a team effort, so I want to acknowledge that any award recognises not just my efforts, but the work of many researchers in my laboratory over the past decade❞

"We are very fortunate to have such an excellent scientist leading our young scientists, inspiring our students and working collaboratively on important Centre projects all over the world," commented Centre Director Prof Ian Small.

The Fenner Medal will be presented at The Shine Dome in Canberra on the morning of Thursday 3 May 2012.

Kate's Award

Intercontinental Race Award

>>Press Release: 2011<<

She swam for love, she swam for glory

Dr Kate Howell recently took a quick diversion from plant science to cross the Dardanelles Strait, which connects Europe and Asia. Did she do this by boat? Or plane?

No, she swam.

continue reading...

Kate placed third female in the 5km inter-continental race across the Dardanelles in a field of 500. A delighted Kate explains the historical significance of the race.

❝ Greek legend recounts the story of lovers Leander and Hero. Leander used to swim across the Dardanelles every night to visit his lover guided by a lamp that she burned in her tower to mark the way. Legend has it that on the night of a storm the lamp blew out. Leander lost his bearings and drowned. Upon learning of her lover's tragic end, Hero then threw herself from her tower to her death. In 1810, the famous English poet, Lord Byron, inspired by Leander's feat ("And he swam for Love, as I for Glory") successfully swam across the Dardenelles strait. This accomplishment is often credited as the beginning of the modern sport of open water swimming.❞

After her salty sea voyage, Dr Howell continued to Croatia to attend the Plant Organellar Signaling conference, made possible through a travel grant she was awarded from the Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Her conference talk focussed on the characterisation of the "flv" mutant. This plant has a mutation in a PPR protein which results in a single base change in the nucleotide sequence of a subunit of the plastid-encoded RNA polymerase. This results in a striking phenotype due to delayed chloroplast biogenesis in the leaf margins.

UWA's Deep Sequencer

UWA Launches DNA Deep Sequencer

>>Press Release: Oct 14, 2011<<

Next generation sequencing now at UWA

Imagine capturing the entire human genome in a single day, for a few thousand dollars.

Now researchers at the University of Western Australia will be able to do just that, with the launch of its first Hi-Seq Illumina Deep Sequencer, the most powerful platform worldwide for next generation sequencing. In a single day of use, this new technology will allow researchers to obtain the sequence equivalent of the entire human genome project, which took 4 billion dollars and 10 years to complete over a decade ago.

continue reading...

To put that in perspective, it would take a person typing 60 words per minute, eight hours a day, around 50 years to type the 3 billion letters, or base pairs, that make up the human genome.

Deep sequencers provide powerful information by reading every base pair of DNA that makes up an organism, and sorting this data into meaningful genetic maps. Using this information, researchers are making incredible breakthroughs as they discover the genes responsible for diseases in plants and animals, find brand new species and map our evolutionary past.

"A genome sequence is the ultimate genetic map", says Professor Jim Whelan.

❝ The availability of this technology opens up the sequencing field to ecologists, evolutionary biologists, environmental scientists and a variety of cellular and genetic disciplines. We are no longer tied to just studying model species like mice or the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. It develops our potential to cheaply sequence individuals in a population, varieties, mutants or clones in a variety of organisms, and study how they respond to the environment under WA conditions. This will greatly increase our ability to fight disease and to breed a variety of crop species for desired traits, such as increased drought, heat, pest or salinity tolerance, thus allowing producers to respond to environmental change or disease in a rapid manner.❞
--Jim Whelan


Plant Energy Photo Competition Winners!

>>Press Release: Oct 17th, 2011<<

Science at its finest

Dear Competitors and Judges,

Thanks so much for all your wonderful entries into this years photo competition and your involvement in making it happen. Congratulations to the winners - their beautiful images are in the slideshow below.

View image slideshow...

Room with a view

Room with a viewHide

1st Place "Science" Category

Photo: Barbara Baer (UWA)

Arabidopsis root systems

Arabidopsis Root SystemsHide

2nd Place "Science" Category

Photo: John Bussell (UWA)

rice growing underwater

Rice Growing UnderwaterHide

3rd Place "Science" Category

Photo: Rachel Shingaki-Wells (UWA)

Eucalypt Sperm

Eucalypt SpermHide

1st Place "Plants" Category

Photo: Michael Whitehead (School Biol., ANU)

Salinity Field Trial Wheat

Salinity Field Trial WheatHide

2nd Place "Plants" Category

Photo: Richard Jacoby (UWA)

Carpet of Flowers

Carpet of FlowersHide

3rd Place "Plants" Category

Photo: Cathie Colas des Francs-Small (UWA)



1st Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Ricarda Fenske (UWA)

The Matchmaker

The MatchmakerHide

2nd Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Su Yin Phua (ANU)


Andy 4Hide

3rd Place "Scientists" Category

Photo: Simon Law (UWA)


Winners in category:


  • 1st Barbara Baer (UWA)
  • 2nd John Bussell (Smith Lab UWA)
  • 3rd Rachel Shingaki-Wells (Millar Lab UWA)


  • 1st Michael Whitehead (School Biol., ANU)
  • 2nd Richard Jacoby (Millar Lab UWA)
  • 3rd Cathie Colas des Francs-Small (Small Lab UWA)


  • 1st Ricarda Fenske (Metabolomics, UWA)
  • 2nd Su Yin Phua (Pogson Lab, ANU)
  • 3rd Simon Law (Whelan Lab, UWA)
Wheat Plant

Amino acids for wheat

>>Press Release: 24 June, 2011<<

Giving wheat a better chance of surviving floods

What do liver cells have in common with wheat seedlings? The University of Western Australia's PhD student Rachel Shingaki-Wells has found that both cope with oxygen starvation better when fed three amino acids: glycine, serine and alanine. The research has been published in the leading international plant journal Plant Physiology, and is leading to better understanding of how to maintain the seedling health of wheat when floods become a threat.


Respiratory Reactive Oxygen Species

>>Press Release: DATE<<

Plant defense against pathogens

Researchers from Plant Energy Biology in collaboration with scientists at CSIRO Plant Industry have made a discovery that will change the way scientists look at the role of respiration in regulating plant responses to disease. Every minute as we breathe our bodies make "reactive oxygen species", which are toxic oxygen-based chemicals. Our bodies have inbuilt defence systems which rapidly degrade these chemicals using antioxidant vitamins, therefore preventing cell damage which can lead to cancer and aging. But our research has found that in plants, while reactive oxygen species are also produced during respiration, they play a positive role in plant defence if properly controlled.

continue reading...

The research, which was co-funded by CSIRO, the Australian Research Council and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (Gleason et al 2011, June 13).

The research, led by Winthrop Professor Karam Singh (CSIRO and UWA) and Winthrop Professor Harvey Millar (UWA), focused on a respiration gene in the mitochondria, which is essential for energy production in plants, yeast and animals. In humans, a mutation in this gene leads to a range of neurological disorders.

Remarkably, the research found that plants with a mutation in this gene grew normally in good conditions, but under pathogen attack, could not form the reactive oxygen chemicals required to properly activate plant defence against fungal and bacterial pathogens.

❝ We show that chemicals commonly considered to be 'bad' can sometimes be 'very good', said co-first author Dr Shaobai Huang from Plant Energy Biology. Despite their potential for damage, without the ability to generate these toxic chemicals from the mitochondria, plants are unable to coordinate an attack response. ❞

Karrikin Molecule

The Smoke Detector Gene

>>Press Release: 13 May, 2011<<

Deadly smoke stimulates new life

Bushfires are an ever-present threat worldwide with potentially devastating consequences. In a fascinating twist from nature, however, the deadly smoke from bushfires also stimulates new life and vigorous plant growth with the following rains.

Previous work by chemists at UWA established the growth-stimulant in smoke to be a chemical called "karrikin" (Flematti et al, 2004).

continue reading...

Now for the first time, researchers in PEB have teamed up with these chemists to discover a gene which allows dormant seeds to sense and respond to karrikin. The icing on the cake, however, was the fact that this gene, called MAX2, also proved crucial to strigolactone signalling, an important plant growth hormone with a highly similar chemical structure.

Read more about lead researcher Dr David Nelson's "eureka moment" that lead to the publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America here.

Past News