Following undergraduate studies at the University of Adelaide I travelled to Tasmania where I obtained a PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of Tasmania, graduating in 1996 (Thesis: Ammonium and nitrate uptake by Eucalyptus nitens). In 1997 I returned to Adelaide as a post-doc in Plant Science at the University of Adelaide investigating iron transport into wheat grains with ultimate aim of addressing human iron deficiency through cereal grains with high iron availability. At the beginning of 2001 I lectured in plant nutrition in the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Adelaide. From March 2001 until January 2006 I held a position with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) where I managed an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded project collaborating with China and Laos. The main aim of this project was to increase livestock production through finding and developing lucerne (alfalfa) with tolerance to abiotic stress. From January 2006 until the end of 2013 I was a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) located at the Waite Research Institute where I led a collaboration with DuPont-Pioneer (US) focussed on increasing the nitrogen use efficiency of cereals.
In January 2014 I joined the Plant Accelerator, the lead node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. In my role as Director of Technology Development I identify phenotyping needs within the Australian plant science community, determine gaps in infrastructure and initiate and implement strategies to address these. I consult with scientists in the design and running of phenotyping experiments and I am also involved in the development and introduction of new tools to phenotype traits of interest. I continue to research nitrogen use efficiency in cereals and am lead chief investigator on an ARC linkage project collaborating with the Universities of Melbourne and Western Austraia, DuPont-Pioneer and Australian Grain Technologies.
Plant Scientists have gained vast knowledge about the genetics of various crop species during recent years. It has become increasingly easier and cheaper to sequence and map genomes, giving scientists access to information unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, a bottleneck has developed in capitalising on this information.
The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility has been deveoped to relieve the 'phenotyping bottleneck' which has, until now, limited our ability to capitalise on substantial government and industry investments already made in plant functional genomics and modern breeding technologies.
At the Plant Accelerator in Adelaide we are using high throughput phenotyping platforms to carry out large scale experiments with high resolution non-destructive measurements of plant growth.
Nitrogen Use Efficiency
Nitrogen is one of the biggest input costs for farmers and the price is increasing because of the power used to industrially fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Approximately 4 % of the world’s energy is used to produced nitrogen fertiliser; this causes a considerable greenhouse gas contribution. Over 100 million tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser is applied to crops each year and 60% of this on cereals. Given the costs and environmental effects associated with production and usage of nitrogen fertilisers, plants with increased nitrogen use efficiency are of great importance to future food security. Nitrogen is the fertiliser that plants require the most, but only 40-50% of the applied fertiliser is taken up by the cereal crops. The nitrogen not taken up leads to pollution of waterways and oceans, one consequence being algal blooms at river deltas causing dead zones that lead to mass fish kills. Unused nitrogen fertiliser has a further environmental impact in that it is broken down in the soil by microbes and released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Our research is improving the nitrogen use efficiency of cereal plants by increasing the efficiency of mechanisms that allow plants to accumulate and use nitrogen. Focussing on corn, wheat and barley the project is characterising nitrogen related processes as the physiological, biochemical and molecular level across plant lifecycles.