New research centre to grow Australian agriculture

10 October 2019

Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan has announced $35 million in funding to establish the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture. This new research centre, based at the University of Queensland, will identify a new generation of agricultural crops able to withstand the effects of climate change and improve food security. Study species will include the many wild relatives of globally-important crop species.
Macquarie University researchers are strongly represented at the new centre, with Professor Ian Wright a Chief Investigator, and Professor Michelle Leishman, Brian Atwell, Rachael Gallagher, and Hendrik Poorter as Associate Investigators.

Saltbush plant. Image credit Wikipedia Commons

Saltbush plant. Image credit Wikipedia Commons

Macquarie University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius said the Centre of Excellence will make an important contribution to Australian agriculture, and draw on Macquarie’s strengths in biological sciences and plant research.
University of Queensland Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said “It will deliver innovative and world-leading research to improve crop resilience and boost yield which will help provide solutions to the critical issues of climate change and food security”.
The ARC Centres of Excellence scheme funds highly innovative and transformational research and Macquarie’s contribution to this new centre adds to its record of achievement in high-level research.
Director of the Centre of Excellence for Plant Success, UQ’s Professor Christine Beveridge said the team would identify nature’s success stories and translate these into opportunities to enhance yield and resilience in agricultural crops.
“Around two-thirds of the world-wide human calorie intake comes from just three plant sources – wheat, rice and corn (maize). “
“Future-proofing these crops against diverse climates, including drought, and expanding gains in diverse plants is a must in order to prove food security for the 25% increase in world population projected over the next 30 years.”
“By predicting the plant varieties that are best for particular environments we can help farmers choose which plants to grow in what areas for each season for the best yield,” Professor Beveridge said.
Macquarie University’s Professor Ian Wright said Macquarie researchers will investigate evolutionary adaptations in the Australian flora to environmental stresses, such as heatwaves and drought, combining new theory with physiological and -omic studies.
“The bigger picture is that the Centre aims to develop new ways of representing the genetic basis of plant adaptations in the form of predictive genetic models, crucial for developing the next generation of crops needed to feed a burgeoning global population in a climate-change world.”
The Centre will lead a global research network to translate novel genetic discoveries into on-farm crop productivity.
UQ, together with its with four Australian universities and CSIRO, as well as 12 other academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, Europe, Asia, America and Canada will provide an additional $75.2 million in cash and in-kind support to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture.

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