School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Interactive effects of waterlogging and salinity on rhizobia for Melilotus siculus. Melilotus siculus (messina) is a new annual pasture legume that can grow in highly saline and waterlogged soils. Messina roots form a special layer called ‘phellem’, which is filled with air spaces that act as a ‘snorkel’ to allow oxygen transport to roots. However, the role of phellem in supplying oxygen to waterlogged nodules is not known. This project will determine if phellem on roots and nodules is important to waterlogging and salinity tolerance of messina inoculated with rhizobia.

Contacts: Tim Colmer ( AND/OR Ed Barrett-Lennard (Centre for Ecohydrology - DAFWA/Plant Biology) (


Room 1.029 Agriculture North Building. Ph 6488 1783. Email
Oxidative stress

Oxygen is highly reactive and toxic – just google “the great oxidation event”, or better yet, search the Nature journal. Plants played an enormous role in this, and have far greater experience in managing oxygen than animals. Yet we still understand relatively little about how plants manage oxygen during germination, development, reproduction and dormancy. These phases involve massive changes in cellular oxygen, which creates enormous chemical and physical stress. We’re using cutting-edge technology – from Next Generation Sequencing to clinical intervention studies – to understand these events in crops as well as what it means for human dietary health.

We have a number of excellent opportunities for Honours, MSc and PhD students to contribute to exciting research, from agronomy through to genomics or pharmacology.
Oxygen and ROS regulate germination and dormancy

Bud dormancy is the most critical and sensitive stage of many economically and ecologically important trees. The bud is a compressed shoot, which houses the leaf and fruit primordia for the coming spring and summer growth. Through several approaches, from respiration to advance microscopy and gene sequencing, we’re investigating how this organ maintains dormancy with very little oxygen, and then manages the massive oxidative stress of bud burst and regrowth. Much of the work is currently done with grapevine buds. Additional research is being conducted with model plants such as Arabidopsis.

We currently have two PhD students and a visiting research associate studying this in collaborations with a world-leading UK scientist, Prof Christine Foyer, a national authority on grape and wine, E/Prof John Considine, and DAFWA staff across the state.

Project opportunities include field, controlled environment, biochemical or genetic studies.
Dietary flavonoids, plant breeding and cardiovascular disease

What is the connection? Apples! Apples are rich in flavonoids, which are known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in humans. Our research has shown that flavonoid-rich apples can improve cardiovascular function within 24hrs – even in healthy adults. We’re leading national research with DAFWA’s apple breeding program, and eminent colleagues in the School of Medicine and Pharmacology to develop ways to breed flavonoid-rich apples.

Project opportunities include breeding and genetic research, molecular and genomic research and even marketing and economic policy studies.
Sulfur dioxide toxicity and defence-activation

Sulfur dioxide is an enormously useful preservative in many foods (E220-E228). Grape berries have a unique, worldwide exemption to a ban on SO2 use in fresh foods. The FAO are likely to change this in future, so we need to find safer alternatives. Our research shows that SO2 activates defence mechanisms in grape berries but also affects dietary antioxidants.

Project opportunities include chemistry, biochemistry, winemaking and molecular biology.
Genomic basis of clonal identity

What is a clone? That is exactly what Next-Generation-Sequencing is about to find out in Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes. Our national project, with W/Prof Ryan Lister (, is sequencing several unique clones to identify functional differences, and how these affect wine qualities. This exciting project has many opportunities for students to contribute.

Project opportunities include ampelography, genome sequencing, metabolomics or tasting studies.


Director, Science, Kings Park and Botanic Garden, West Perth - Phone 9480 3614 Email:

Seed Biology ~ Restoration Ecophysiology ~ Cryogenics in conservation ~ Restoring degraded sites

~ Rehabilitate disturbed/mined lands ~ Rescuing our terrestrial orchids ~ Invasive weed research

~ Saving endangered flora from extinction ~ Climate change effects on native flora ~ and much more.
Based in the Science Laboratories at Kings Park and Botanic Garden, students would work alongside more than 45 research scientists and postgraduate students.
Kings Park and Botanic Garden enjoys an international reputation for excellence in biodiversity conservation science, undertaking integrated research focused on practical outcomes in native plant biology, rare plant conservation and bushland restoration.
For information about Prof Dixon and the research at Kings Park and Botanic Garden, please visit
Honour students can choose from an exciting selection of projects, or are welcome to suggest their own. Areas of supervision expertise include:
Seed Banking and Seed Science research native plant biology, ecology and dormancy release. Research projects could include - using a recently discovered compound to investigate whether synchronized germination is possible, or seeking the optimum techniques to trigger germination of native plant seeds for effective propagation, or stimulating germination of exotic (weed) species for improved control, or the most effective way of storing seeds into the millennium, or how to improve the efficiency of seedling survival in bushland restoration.
Restoration Ecophysiology research plant responses to abiotic (salinity, drought and heat) stress factors, and use plant signaling compounds to regulate stress responses. Research projects could include - seeking ways to enhance abiotic stress tolerance in native plant seeds/seedlings, or improving the use of native plants in mining and agricultural landscapes.
Rare Plant Biology biotechnological research is critical to the success of off-site conservation and translocation of endangered plant species. Research projects could include - in vitro technology (tissue culture, micropropagation, somatic embryogenesis), cryostorage and mass production of plants for restoration/translocation projects.
Bushland and Mine Site Restoration involves undertaking innovative research and operations to enhance, rehabilitate and restore the conservation of degraded lands including urban bushland remnants, agricultural and post-mined lands. Research projects could include - the effects of changed site conditions such as topsoil in restoration success, or ways to optimize seed broadcast and seedling establishment, or why weeds are so invasive.

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