School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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The projects being offered and project ideas for development are listed below under the name of the main supervisor. The supervisors are listed alphabetically by last name.


Room 2.20 Botany Building; Ph 9380 2262; Email:
Research Interests

The regulation of gene expression in relation to nodule development, N2 fixation and N metabolism in legumes is a major area of research. Current projects include the isolation of enzymes and genes involved in ureide and purine biosynthesis, studies of enzyme and gene regulation, organelle isolation from nodules, dual targeting of single gene products to 2 organelles (plastids and mitochondria) and a detailed examination of the ultrastructure of Rhizobium infected cells. A second area involves studies of the molecular mechanisms of short and long distance transport in plants, especially of nitrogenous solutes and of factors regulating seed development. A number of projects are related specifically to the genetic improvement of the major grain legume crop of WA, the narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius). These will use recombinant DNA technology and genetic engineering and could involve the use of HPLC and GC/MS analysis.
Signals transported in phloem of lupin

Plants are continually responding to signals that allow them to modify their development in response to their changing environment. A good example is the way many plants analyse environmental conditions to determine when to produce flowers. The signalling molecule “florigen” involved in this most basic process (flowering) has still not been identified but it is known to be transported in phloem. We are trying to identify this and other signalling molecules in phloem by isolating peptides and small regulatory RNAs (called microRNAs, miRNA and small interfering RNAs, siRNA). We have identified a number of miRNAs in phloem and aim to determine which genes they target, how they are transported around the plant and how they affect developmental processes. Other work aims to identify peptide signals transported in phloem.

  1. Use a GFP gene with a miRNA binding site within it to study sites of miRNA action in transgenic Arabidopsis.

  1. Lupin seeds are currently being studied to see whether they are a good alternative to soybean as a human food. Lupin milk products have been developed and lupin protein extract can be used in a similar way to soybean meal in food processing industries. However there is evidence that lupin seed causes an extremely severe allergic reaction in some individuals. You could identify the proteins in lupin seeds which cause the allergic reactions.

Other project ideas

  • Physiological, biochemical, microbiological or structural studies of the ant:bacteria:extrafloral nectary association in cowpea and other legumes.

  • Molecular biological studies of the regulation of gene expression in N2-fixing legume nodules, particularly in relation to nitrogen assimilation and purine/ureide biosynthesis.

  • Development of techniques for genetic transformation and regeneration of transgenic lupins (Lupinus angustifolius).

  • Studies of abscission in lupins using novel non-abscising mutants.

  • Establishment of the molecular basis for source/sink relations in legumes.

  • Molecular studies of flower and pod abortion in lupins.

  • Studies on localisation of purine biosynthesis enzymes. This project will study the mechanisms by which enzymes are transported into plastids and mitochondria. This could be studied using immunolocalisation, plant transformation and in vitro import techniques.

  • The role of plant hormones in determining the partitioning of assimilates in plants.

  • Isolation and characterisation of a cytokinin-specific isomerase from developing legume embryo tissues.

  • Isolation and molecular characterization of phloem mobile ‘signals’ of biotic and abiotic stresses in lupins.


Room 1.104 Agriculture Central Wing; Ph 6488 3924; Email:

In January 2004 I commenced with the School of Plant Biology following more than 30 years as a Plant Pathologist with the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia identifying, researching and resolving plant pathology issues through ‘on-farm’ research in relation to pathology problems facing the wool, oilseed, pulse, cereal, horticulture, meat and dairy industries of Western Australia. Consequently I have wide interests in relation to plant pathology and mycology applicable across the whole of the agricultural sector.

The Plant Pathology program at UWA is a collaborative program with Assistant Professor Ming Pei You, also in the School of Plant Biology, and all projects will have the benefit and security from joint supervision and enjoy a strong network of support within the group. It is the vision of this Plant Pathology group to foster both plant pathology and mycology interest and skills development in each generation of students passing through UWA.

We have a very active Brassica pathology program (among several other programs as well) here at the University and the plant pathology group at UWA was the first anywhere to report the occurrence of a new resistance-breaking race of the blackleg fungal pathogen, Leptosphaeria maculans, that overcame the Brassica rapa ssp. sylvestris-derived single dominant gene resistance, and which has since broken out and caused severe damage to canola crops across Australia. The Plant Pathology group at UWA currently is a world leading group in terms of diseases of oilseed Brassica crops, and has strong international linkages to leading research programmes on Brassicas both nationally (Victoria) and internationally (France, the United Kingdom and Poland). Current programs include durability of polygenic and single dominant gene-based host resistance in oilseed Brassicas and how this relates to changes in Brassica-pathogen interactions and in the pathogen populations; understanding infection processes of the blackleg pathogen; ways of disrupting the pathogen life cycle; etc.

In addition to blackleg disease, we have active in relation to Australian spring-type canola varieties for a range of other diseases such as downy mildew (Hyaloperonospora parasitica), white rust (Albugo candida), Sclerotinia (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) and white leaf spot (Pseudocercosporella capsellae) in relation both to host resistance, host-pathogen interactions and also in relation to defining the survival mechanisms and parasitic behaviour of these pathogens under the Mediterranean conditions that prevail in much of southern Australia and particularly in WA. We also have programs investigating the race status of these pathogens in Australia.

The Plant Pathology group at UWA currently has a strong collaborative research program on understanding and managing diseases of pasture legumes, including both those which have been (e.g. subterranean clover, annual medic) or are being developed (many new annual and perennial species) for Western Australia. Particular fungal diseases of current research include Phytophthora root rot, clover scorch disease, rust, and Cercospora on subterranean clover, Rhizoctonia root rot and Botrytis blight of new pasture legume species, and Phoma on medic and its role in stimulating phyto-oestrogens in annual medics. We are currently commencing a new large project with Meat and Livestock Australia to look at the causes, impact, epidemiology and management of soilborne diseases on pastures across southern Australia.

There are currently programs within the School investigating root and crown diseases of strawberries in Western Australia and Sclerotinia on vegetable Brassicas.
Please also contact me if you are interested in any pathogen of any other crop, including all pulse and cereal crops

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