School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th



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Direct assessment of dispersal within and among native plant populations. Quantifying dispersal of pollen and seed within and among plant populations is critical for understanding these important evolutionary dynamics that affect, and are affected by, genetic structure, especially in a conservation and management context with widespread habitat fragmentation and climate change. Are fragmented populations doomed, or able to move, in response to climate change? Is inbreeding increased in fragmented populations due to genetic isolation, and does this affect the long-term viability of populations? What is the impact of introduced honeybees on pollen dispersal and mating in plants historically pollinated by vertebrates? Powerful molecular tools such as microsatellites and AFLP, coupled with statistical approaches for paternity and/or population assignment, offer the potential to generate exciting new data on direct estimates of dispersal in banksias, peas, seagrass, darwinias, orchids, and sedges.
Resolving evolutionary relationships and taxonomies using DNA sequences. DNA sequences provide powerful data to generate accurate taxonomies, and to identify the systematic evolutionary relationships among taxa. The accuracy of this knowledge underpins the effectiveness of all other biodiversity conservation and management activities. In addition, recent interest and progress internationally in DNA barcoding offers exciting opportunities for the rapid identification and cataloguing of species, but still requires development and local application. We offer a wide range of opportunities in molecular systematics, that extend to horticulturally and/or conservation significant groups such as grevilleas, kangaroo paws, sedges, wax plants and seagrasses, as well as research in the development of DNA barcoding tools in key local plant taxa.
For more information, see the BGPA page in this booklet, or www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/science.

WINTHROP PROFESSOR HANS LAMBERS

Room 2.127 Agriculture Central Wing; Ph 6488 7381; Email: hans.lambers@uwa.edu.au Web: http://ps-hlambers.agric.uwa.edu.au/
ECOPHYSIOLOGY OF MANAGED AND NATURAL SYSTEMS
In collaboration with Greg Cawthray, Professor Kingsley Dixon, Dr Patrick Finnegan, Dr Etienne Laliberté, Dr Martha Ludwig, Dr Stuart Pearse, Dr Pieter Poot, Dr Michael Renton, Dr Megan Ryan, Dr Mike Shane, Dr François Teste, Dr Erik Veneklaas and others

For more information, please refer to Prof Lambers’ website: http://ps-hlambers.agric.uwa.edu.au/

  • Carbon metabolism, exudate production and phosphorus acquisition in cluster roots of Proteaceae and Fabaceae: physiological and molecular processes involved in nutrient acquisition from severely nutrient-impoverished soils.




  • Understanding how phosphite protects native plants from the pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi (dieback)- this is part of a larger project titled “Phosphate toxicity and susceptibility to Phytophthora cinnamomi (‘dieback’) in Proteaceae: why are they linked?”.




  • Trialing chemical alternatives to phosphite for dieback management in low-phosphorus ecosystems.




  • Improving P efficiency in agriculture by understanding phosphorus acquisition and utilisation strategies in crop or potential crop species.




  • Rarity of species in the Banksia genus: highly specialised nutrient-acquisition mechanisms appear superior on severely nutrient-impoverished sites, but maladaptive in other habitats.




  • Phosphate-acquisition strategies in native legumes with potential as pasture species.




  • Understanding root interactions and their implications on plant coexistence, interplant nutrient transfer, community-level nutrient retention in poor soils



  • In situ development (minirhizotron) of Proteaceae cluster roots in the field and interaction with other roots from surrounding vegetation




  • Examining the conceptual model of resource partitioning for acquisition of soil phosphorus (P) in natural systems – how does the Peppermint gum (Agonis flexuosa) vary its relative investment in its various P-acquisition strategies (e.g., via extracellular phosphatase production, mycorrhizal associations, carboxylate release) as dependent on sites with contrasting P-availability?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR MATTHEW NELSON

Room 1032 Agriculture North Wing; Ph 6488 3671; Email: matthew.nelson@uwa.edu.au
CROP GENOMICS AND BREEDING

We are entering a pivotal period in crop breeding. The bad news is that crop productivity is struggling to keep up with increasing demand for food and fodder, with projections that the World will demand 70% more than current production levels by 2050. The good news is that there are more tools than ever in the hands of plant breeders to create more productive and adaptable varieties. One of the most powerful tools is genomics, which can transform the efficiency of selection in breeding programmes. New genome sequencing technologies are making the discovery of genes underlying important crop traits much easier than could have imagined even 5 years ago.

I am part of the UWA / CSIRO team sequencing the genome of Australia’s most important grain legume species: narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius). There is plenty of scope for students wanting to make their mark on crop breeding by identifying genes controlling key domestication traits in lupin: the genes that make the difference between crop varieties and their wild relatives. I particularly focus on genetic and environmental influences on flowering time in lupin and canola. There are also ongoing projects in Brassica species (such as canola) and in the drought tolerant legume pasture species Tedera, where your input could result in new discoveries and new genomic tools for crop breeding.

If your research interests lean more to basic genetics and evolution, you can join me in asking questions about genome evolution such as how polyploidy has shaped chromosome evolution in crop species and their wild relatives, and in exploring the mechanisms for polyploid formation.

Here are some specific project ideas:


  • Finding genes underlying domestication traits such as early flowering, pod shattering and alkaloid content in narrow-leafed lupin. This project will draw genomics resources we developed in the lupin genome sequencing project (a collaborative project between UWA and CSIRO) and other lupin genomics projects. Activities would involve design of molecular markers, monitoring gene expression using qRT-PCR and finding marker-trait associations in sets of wild and domesticated germplasm.

  • Investigating genetic diversity of different gene pools of narrow-leafed lupin such as Australian and European cultivars, landraces and collections from the wild (in collaboration with Dr. Jon Clements (DAFWA) and Dr. Jens Berger (CSIRO)).

  • Despite the massive impact that the time to flowering makes on canola yields, we know surprisingly little about how genes and environment interact to control flowering time in canola. With climate change already upon us, we must get a clearer understanding of how the environment (temperature and day-length) interacts with genes to result in flowering time variation in canola varieties. Join with us to redress this knowledge gap to help develop canola adapted to climate change (in collaboration with W/Prof Wallace Cowling).

  • Mining genomic resources for marker-assisted breeding of Tedera (Bituminaria bituminosa), a drought tolerant pasture legume. Traits that could be targeted are drought tolerance, flowering time or furanocoumarin biosynthesis (in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Real, DAFWA).

  • Every chromosome of every eukaryote species has one functioning centromere that is crucial for cell division. Despite the vital role of centromeres, we don’t know even know where they are located relative to genes in most species, including Brassica species (e.g. canola). We have developed model systems for mapping for mapping Brassica centromeres (in collaboration with Dr. Annaliese Mason, University of Queensland).


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