Table of contents school of plant biology introduction


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The UWA Institute of Agriculture was established by the University of Western Australia (UWA) with a mandate to integrate agricultural and natural resource management, research, education, training and communication within and outside the university.

The Institute is a partnership between the four schools within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (FNAS) and key agricultural, food and health, and biotechnology centres within and outside the Faculty within UWA.
The UWA Institute of Agriculture works with the agricultural and natural resource management sector to improve workforce skills, and to generate new knowledge that will assist the industry’s participants to advance their individual aspirations, underpin local and regional prosperity, and exercise responsible stewardship of the environment.
The Institute has five Programs: Integrated Land and Water; Animal Productions Systems; Plant Production Systems; Rural Economy, Policy and Development, and Education, Outreach and Technology Exchange. These programs are structured to be, where possible, interdisciplinary, intersecting across the varied strengths of the Faculty’s Schools, Centres and discipline groups. The Institute’s programs focus on key themes relevant to future agricultural, food industry and natural resource management needs. Its responsibility is to maintain position of UWA Agricultural Sciences and related natural resource management as the national tertiary leader in the discipline area and in the top 50 agricultural faculties in the world.


Room 1.151 Agriculture Central Wing; Ph 6488 1539; email:

Our group aims to gain a greater understanding of the physiology of crops, particularly wheat, in response to climate change so that we can identify traits for developing improved varieties. My main research interests are related to plant water use. Water is fundamental to plant growth and productivity and yet it is usually the most limiting resource. Most of the water taken up by plants is lost to transpiration through open stomata during CO2 assimilation so there is a constant challenge in acquiring and keeping water, particularly in dryland cropping environments.
In addition to collaboration with Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director UWA Institute of Agriculture we have strong collaboration with Dr. Jairo Palta at CSIRO Plant Industry, so there are opportunities to work at both organisations. Projects can involve lab, glasshouse and field work. Training will be given in a variety of the latest techniques that measure plant water relations and hydraulic processes, as well as other physiological processes. There is also the potential to study molecular processes that control plant water flows in collaboration with Dr. Catherine Colas des Francs Small (Plant Energy Biology).
Some of the projects available include, but are not limited to:

  1. Wheat hydraulics, the link between transpiration and root hydraulic conductance

  2. Brachypodium distachyon as a model for wheat water relations

  3. Effects of elevated temperature on grain filling in wheat

  4. Wheat physiology in response to climate change using contrasting genotypes

    1. Drought

    2. High temperature

    3. Elevated CO2

  5. Using novel magnetic probes to detect differences in genotypic tolerance to water stress and high temperature.



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 14 members, has excellent new laboratory and plant growth facilities 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.

  1. Resistance to sap-sucking insect pests

Sap-sucking insects, such as aphids, are major pests in agriculture causing direct feeding damage and transmitting over 50% of all plant viruses. The group has built up an excellent system to study sap-sucking insect pests involving the model legume Medicago truncatula and various aphid species including the model aphid, pea aphid. The combination of powerful genetic and genomic tools/resources on both the plant and aphid sides of the interaction enable cutting edge research and its’ application to agriculture. Two potential projects in this area are:

1a) Investigation of the bluegreen aphid secretome: Aphids are sophisticated sap-sucking insects that manipulate the plant by secreting proteins directly into the phloem sieve element in order to establish a successful feeding site. In incompatible interactions it is believed that this secretome of the aphid harbors effectors that are recognized either directly or indirectly by the plant’s resistance genes. This project area uses genomics and transcriptomics techniques to compare the pea aphid and bluegreen aphid salivary secretomes to identify factors contributing to host specificity.

1b) Characterisation of R gene mediated defences following aphid attack: Resistance to bluegreen aphid is controlled by a single dominant gene termed AKR (Acyrthosiphon kondoi resistance). A pair of near-isogenic lines has been generated which are either resistant (having AKR) or susceptible (lacking AKR) to bluegreen aphid. Potential projects using transcriptomics and/or metabolomics are available to identify key regulators and defence pathways recruited by the AKR resistance gene following recognition of the aphid.

  1. Resistance to fungal pathogens

Fungal diseases are major problems for Australian agriculture. One such important pathogen, R. solani, causes substantial losses to wheat, barley, canola and various legumes in Australia. Internationally it is the second most important disease problem for the world’s largest staple food, rice. The group uses powerful genomic approaches on both the plant and pathogen side to unravel the mechanisms underlying resistance.

2a) Characterise transcription factors linked to fungal resistance using molecular and reverse genetic approaches: The group has identified specific transcription factors in both Arabidopsis and M. truncatula that are key regulators of plant defence responses to some fungal pathogens. Potential projects include the identification of target genes and partner proteins using molecular and genomic approaches.

2b) Identification of effectors/pathogenicity genes from the R. solani genome required for virulence on a plant host: The group has recently assembled a draft genome sequence R. solani. Using a combination of bioinformatics and molecular biology, putative pathogenicity effectors can be identified and their association with virulence tested.

  1. Human health benefits from lupin seed proteins

The group is part of the Centre for Food and Genomic Medicine which links medical, food and plant researchers to tackle problems related to obesity and diabetes. The focus of the groups CFGM effort is on seed storage proteins of narrow leaf lupin (NLL) which are likely to be the constituents of the grain responsible for human health benefits relating to reduced risk of heart disease and appetite suppression.

3a) Lupin Seed Transcriptomics: Project areas include analysing gene expression during lupin seed development to identify key transcription factors controlling seed storage protein gene expression or using transcriptomics and phylogenetic studies comparing seed storage proteins between lupin species/cultivars and correlation of the different seed compositions and nutritional qualities.


Corporate Office PO Box 344, Collie, WA 6225

Initial contacts Stephen Vlahos (Worsley Environmental Specialist- Studies Ph: 9734 8592, email: or Bill Loneragan (Room 2.29 Botany Building; Ph 9380 2216; Email:
Worsley Alumina Pty Ltd manages the Boddington Bauxite Mine located on the eastern edge of the Darling Range in the northern Jarrah Forest of WA. The first operational rehabilitation was undertaken in 1986 under a prescription developed in consultation with the Department of Environment and Conservation. The broad objective of rehabilitation is to regenerate a stable forest ecosystem with characteristics compatible with the eastern jarrah forest. Within this broad objective there are many opportunities for both basic and applied research projects.
Projects are undertaken in collaboration with other groups within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the Centre for Land Rehabilitation and the Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority.
Worsley will provide funds to cover the costs of the Project including consumables, travel etc.

Supervision will be primarily through the University with some support from Worsley Alumina.

Project ideas
Improving and quantifying establishment from broadcast seed. The broadcast seed mix contains over 100 species and is an important contribution to establishing the vegetation. Quantifying and understanding the factors affecting establishing will contribute to enhancing the rehabilitation vegetation. What are establishment rates across the range of species seeded? What factors influence establishment? Are there generalisations for different plant groups? How to improve seed quality?
Seed dormancy and seed treatments. Some species have very low germination. What is the mechanism of dormancy? What treatments can be used to stimulate germination? A range of plant groups is available for investigation.
Tissue Culture techniques. Some species can only be reintroduced by planting seedlings, and seedlings numbers achieved in sufficient numbers using tissue culture methods. How can these methods be improved?
Potential benefits of mulches. Chipping of forest residue could be used to enhance the establishment of the rehabilitation. What are the benefits to vegetation establishment? What are the consequences for soil conditions?
Other Projects can be developed in collaboration with academic staff into a range of rehabilitation issues that include nutrients and nutrient cycling, microbial activity and processes, mycorrhizal associations, soil development, plant growth, plant and vegetation water use, floristic development, fire management, plant pathogens (eg. dieback) etc. Discuss your interests first with A/Prof. Bill Loneragan who can refer you to an appropriate member of the academic staff.

August 2011

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