Congratulations to the winners of seven Discovery grants that have been awarded to researchers at The University of Adelaide across the Agriculture discipline, the most ever won in a single year.

Winners include Vincent Bulone, Rachel Burton, Georgina Drew and Doug Bardsley, Matthew Gilliham, Peter Langridge and Scott Boden, Matthew Tucker, and Dabing Zhang.

Details of the successful projects related to Agriculture are:

Vincent Bulone

Unravelling cell wall polysaccharide biosynthesis in pathogenic zygomycetes. This project aims to define mechanisms that control cell wall composition and stability in Rhizopus oryzae, a zygomycete fungus responsible for life-threatening human infections. The biochemical properties and function of vital enzymes involved in a newly discovered cell wall polysaccharide biosynthetic pathway will be determined using innovative approaches at the interface of biochemistry, microbiology, cell biology and structural biology. Expected outcomes include new knowledge on the enzymes that synthesise major fucose-based carbohydrates, to guide the future development of novel strategies for antifungal therapies. The data will also be applicable to animal protection from related zygomycete pathogens.

Rachel Burton

Novel cell wall genes ripe for the picking. This project aims to investigate the role of recently discovered plant cellulose synthase-like CslM genes and to define the polysaccharide product associated with them. Successful identification of the polysaccharide is highly likely to increase our fundamental understanding of how cell walls are made, how cells stick together or fall apart as well as facilitating the training of the next generation of cell wall biologists in challenging molecular and biochemical techniques. This new knowledge could increase our understanding of fruit ripening, and how it might be manipulated. This could have significant downstream commercial benefits if applied to breeding programs of economically important fruit such as grapes, tomatoes and strawberries.

Georgina Drew and Doug Bardsley

Hydrosocial Adaptations to Water Risk in Australian Agriculture. This project aims to understand how Australian farmers adapt to water resource limitations and governance constraints. We will address this significant challenge by identifying how social and cultural perceptions of water risk inspire farmers to create resilient management solutions in line with policy guidelines. Through ethnographic fieldwork and the analysis of historical patterns of water use, the research seeks identify the hydrosocial adaptations that enable farmers to effectively respond to change. The new knowledge will foster water risk management via the culturally appropriate tailoring of interventions. Outcomes will support the long-term viability of Australian agriculture, with relevant lessons for managing drought globally.

Matthew Gilliham

Investigating a novel signalling pathway for crop improvement. This project will dissect a newly identified signalling pathway in plants that regulates plant water use and carbon gain. It will deploy multiple techniques, including novel biosensors, to understand the links between the metabolism of plants and their environmental responses. The project will build partnerships with scientists at leading international institutions for enhanced outcomes, including access to specialised equipment and upskilling of our scientists. The generation of barley with the latest gene editing techniques aims to produce a non-GM crop with the potential for enhanced root C sequestration, lower water use and improved yield, three key goals for agricultural sustainability in the face of a drying Australian climate.

Peter Langridge and Scott Boden

Harnessing genetic diversity for complex traits. Genetic diversity underpins crop improvement but has become increasingly narrow in our major crops. Strategies exist for mobilising simple traits (e.g. disease resistance) from wild accessions or landraces into cultivars, but there are no effective approaches for introducing complex traits, including stress tolerance or components of yield. Using barley as an important crop and a genetic model, the project aims to address this problem by applying a novel approach; partial redomestication of wild accessions by introgressing genes required for modern farming, then evaluating the resulting partially adapted germplasm in hybrids with elite cultivars. The project expects to generate new and diverse germplasm pools for breeding.

Matthew Tucker

Decoding tissue-specific components of cereal grain development. This project aims to investigate how barley flowers produce cells that deliver nutrients into developing seeds. This project expects to generate new knowledge through international collaboration and technical improvements in cell biology and genetics, overcoming current methodological limitations to precisely influence seed size, shape and quality, which are traits of agricultural relevance to the Australian cereal industry. Expected outcomes include strengthened international partnerships, leveraged funding and increased knowledge of plant reproduction. This should provide significant benefits, including upskilled researchers, improved research capacity and genetic targets to optimise seed production in challenging climatic conditions.

Dabing Zhang (with Brent Kaiser)

How do plant roots align nitrogen uptake to soil opportunities? Improved nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in crop plants is required to achieve sustainable plant agriculture practices that maximise productivity while minimising nitrogen fertiliser-dependent pollution. Current high-input monoculture plant production systems suffer from poor NUE and can contribute to local and global nitrogen pollution outcomes. Improving how plants manage their nitrogen uptake will improve NUE and help support Australian plant agriculture. This project will investigate novel technologies that re-engineer nitrate transport activity. The project will also investigate the biochemical and molecular links between nitrogen uptake on root development required for improved plant growth.

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