School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Monitoring the water status of crops using novel magnetic probes

This project will use new probes to monitor the water status of wheat plants in response to temperature and drought. Using two genotypes with contrasting transpiration efficiency, the project will identify the

relationship between transpiration, leaf temperature and plant water status. We have funding for the student to visit with our collaborator in Germany, Prof. Ulrich Zimmermann who invented the probes.
Hydraulic properties of leaves

There is wide scope to develop a novel project in this field because of the limited research that has been conducted on Australian plants or crop species. Studies can include anatomical observations, hydraulic measurements and modeling.


The UWA Institute of Agriculture, Room 2.102 Agriculture Central Wing; Ph 6488 7979; Email:

Our group works towards sustainable plant breeding for changing environments including the application of population genetics, genomics and evolutionary theory to improve crop disease resistance, stress tolerance and adaptation. A wide range of research is undertaken within the group, for example:

  • Accelerating crop breeding through new methods enhanced by genetic or genomic information

  • Incorporation and exploitation of genetic diversity in elite crop breeding programs

  • Interspecific crossing in Brassica species to improve canola (Brassica napus)

  • Development of a new hexaploid Brassica species for agriculture

  • Heat and drought stress tolerance in Brassica rapa

  • Mapping and identifying genes for blackleg disease resistance in canola

  • Understanding the molecular basis of disease resistance and susceptibility in blackleg of canola

  • Finding gene-specific markers for oil quality traits in canola, such as high oleic and low linolenic oils

  • Gene identification in narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius)

  • The genetic basis of heterosis (hybrid vigour) in canola.

Honours or MSc Project Ideas:

New breeding methods for genomic and genetic selection (with Assist Prof Matthew Nelson). We have developed a new early generation breeding system that incorporates genetic and genomic information – based on the animal model. This new method could revolutionise plant breeding.

Dialing up” the right flowering time in canola. (with Assist Prof Matthew Nelson). We have discovered several genes in canola that interact with temperature and photoperiod to determine flowering time. Flowering time should occur at different times in each target region, and these alleles may be used to breed in the correct flowering time in each region.

Development and characterisation of an allohexaploid Brassica DH population (with Dr Sheng Chen) A golden opportunity exists to hasten the agricultural evolution of a new allohexaploid Brassica species. This new allohexaploid Brassica research was initiated in 2008. In this project, we will develop a double haploid population and characterize it at morphological, cytogenetic and molecular levels.

Studies on centres of origin and diversity in Brassica juncea (with Dr Sheng Chen)

  1. juncea is genetically diverse, with two main centres of diversity in India and China. Whole-genome molecular marker diversity analysis showed two major genetic subgroups of B. juncea. In this project, we will explore association mapping of genes of interest for key traits in a global collection of B. juncea.

Tolerance of Brassica rapa to heat and drought stress (with Dr Sheng Chen & W/Prof Neil Turner) Oilseed Brassica napus lacks heat and drought tolerance, and has narrow genetic diversity. Oilseed B. rapa (annual turnip rape or field mustard), one of the progenitors of B. napus, is genetically extremely diverse. This project will evaluate the effects of heat and drought stress on B. rapa. The aim is to develop effective and reproducible protocols for large-scale screening for heat and drought tolerance in B. rapa, and to find genes for heat and drought tolerance for incorporation into B. napus.

Centromere mapping in Brassica interspecific hybrids (lead by Assist Prof Matthew Nelson)

Every chromosome of every eukaryote species has one functioning centromere that is crucial for cell division. Little is known of the location of centromeres in the genetic maps of most species, including Brassica species (e.g. canola). We have developed a model system using the interspecific hybrid F1 of Brassica napus ??B. carinata for mapping Brassica centromeres.

Characterisation of domestication genes in lupin (lead by Assist Prof Matthew Nelson)

We are investigating genes underlying domestication traits such as early flowering, pod shattering and alkaloid content in narrow-leafed lupin. This project will draw resources from the lupin genome sequencing project (a collaborative project between UWA and CSIRO) and prior genetic mapping work in the group.

The molecular role of a canola blackleg resistance gene in canola (with Assoc Prof Susan Barker)

We have located the region in the canola genome that contains a major resistance gene. Research within the group indicates that susceptibility to blackleg is an active response to the pathogen whereby plant cells die by programmed cell death. This project would define the function of the resistance gene in canola.



The CSIRO/UWA - Molecular Plant Pathology and Crop Genomics Group
W/Prof Singh and his UWA/CSIRO colleagues study plant defence against insect pests and fungal pathogens. These projects are breaking new ground in plant biotic stress constraints, are world-class in science quality and are making important contributions to our understanding of plant-pathogen and plant- pest interactions. The group is also active in legume genomics including leading an effort to sequence the genome of narrow-leaf lupin, the major grain legume in Australia, and studying the human health benefits associated with lupin seed storage proteins. The group, which currently consists of 19 members, has excellent new laboratory and plant growth facilities, a bioinformatics team, and strong funding support.

There are a number of potential Honours/postgraduate projects available around the following research areas that can be tailored to an individual’s strengths/interests.

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