School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Room 202 Botany Building; Ph 6488 2435; Email: Research Background

I was appointed at UWA in 1998 to help bring molecular biology and molecular genetics research tools into the Faculty. I have very wide ranging interests, and I have co-supervised projects as varied as: genetics of white coat colour in alpacas; development of seedless citrus; characterization of heritage olive trees in Western Australia; zinc nutrition in barley; towards cloning a self incompatibility gene from Phalaris; mapping a mycorrhizal symbiosis gene in tomato; genetic modification of lupin for improved agronomic traits including disease resistance and herbicide tolerance; characterization of the role of apoptosis in blackleg disease of canola; assessment of genetic diversity in a native pasture species; etc (for a complete list please contact me!).
Research Advice
I sometimes find myself giving advice to students about half way through their research project when they realize that they need to develop a genetic or molecular biology approach to answer their research question. If you find yourself in this situation of needing advice at any stage in your research, please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to advise you about what might be your next steps.
Research supervision
Examples of current projects that can be completed in a short time period are listed below. Contact me if you would also like to discuss other options, including projects that you have developed yourself, or if you would like to involve me as a second supervisor in order to accomplish a small genetic analysis as part of your project.

  • Genetic characterisation of flower colour and seed marking in lupin

Some appearance characters of lupin might be very useful as visual markers for a GM lupin crop, to allow segregation of the crop from other conventional cultivars. Two such characters are petal coloration and seed hilum marking. F1 seed is available from crosses between parent lines that differ in these characteristics. The project involves determining the genetics of inheritance of each trait, to establish its genetic basis. If single genes are involved in each trait, then the utility of these for tagging GM lines will be assessed further by crossing and segregation analysis.

  • Genetic characterisation of bacterial speck disease resistance in currant tomato

A well studied disease resistance system is that of the gene-for-gene interaction between bacterial speck and the Pto locus of tomato. In the near relative, currant tomato, instead of a single gene, it appears that two different genes segregate independently that both are required for resistance to bacterial speck. This project will follow up that observation, using material that has been selected by single seed descent, to identify and characterise the two genes, including determination of whether one of these genes is the Pto gene and if so, what is the other gene?

  • Role of mycorrhizal symbiosis in P nutrition of native plants

Australian native species have evolved to cope with very low available phosphate (P) in soils. Some plants have evolved the capacity to access P without apparently utilizing the root fungal partnership known as mycorrhizal symbiosis. However, studies with mycorrhizal species have challenged the assumption that the symbiosis is not functioning in P uptake. This project will examine the role of mycorrhizas in P nutrition of “non-mycorrhizal” native plant species.


Room 1.127 Agriculture Central Wing; Ph 6488 1993; Email;
Crops and pastures with greater salt and waterlogging tolerance than current options are required to make saline land more productive. There are many opportunities available for research in this field and we would be happy to have discussions with any student interested in working in this general area. The following are examples of projects of current interest to us:

    • Salinity and submergence tolerance in halophytes. Halophytes grow naturally in saline soils – but many of these soils are also prone to waterlogging and plants can even experience complete submergence during floods. Mechanisms of salinity tolerance in halophytes have previously been studied, but physiological responses of halophytes to complete submergence in combination with salinity need to be further elucidated. The scope for projects is large, as various physiological aspects need to be studied.

    • Variation for salt tolerance within Medicago polymorpha. Recent experiments have found variation in salt tolerance within a commercial cultivar of burr medic (Medicago polymorpha). Further experiments are needed to determine the source of this variation and utilise it for developing a more salt tolerant burr medic cultivar.

    • Waterlogging/salinity tolerance in clones of puccinellia. Puccinellia is a halophytic grass used for pasture on saltland. It is a cross-pollinating plant and seed lines are therefore genetically diverse. This species can be exceptionally tolerant to waterlogging under saline conditions, with increased growth under waterlogged/saline compared with drained/saline conditions (most rare amongst higher plants). However, we suspect that different accessions/seed sources vary in tolerance. This project will screen a range of vegetatively propagated clones of puccinellia for tolerance to waterlogging/salinity. The best selections will be further tested for K+/Na+ regulation and traits associated with better root aeration.

    • Screening barley cultivars for tolerance to salinity at germination. Barley is well known as a relatively salt-tolerant cereal. However, this reputation is based mainly on its tolerance to salt after establishment. Saltland in Western Australia is generally most salty at the start of the growing season as seeds germinate. However, little is known about how this salt impacts on the germination of different barley cultivars. This project will assess the salt tolerance at germination for a range of barley cultivars. There are two critical research questions: (a) Do cultivars differ in their ability to withstand salt before germination occurs? (b) Do cultivars differ in their ability to tolerate salt during germination?

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