Centre News & Highlights...
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 MelonekMinimise
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!Minimise
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!Minimise
Plant Energy Photo Competition Winners
>>Press Release: Oct 11th, 2012<<
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...
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 visitMinimise
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...
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.
>>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.
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.Minimise
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 ❞
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.Minimise
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...
THE WINNERS OF THE 2012 FASCINATION OF PLANTS DAY VIDEO COMPETITION ARE:
JUNIOR CATEGORY WINNERS
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
SENIOR CATEGORY WINNERS
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
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.htmMinimise
>>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. ❞
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.Minimise
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.Minimise
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.❞
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...
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)
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. ❞
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.Minimise