Investment in Australia’s young agricultural scientists is paying dividends for the nation’s grain growers and the broader industry.

Through its sponsorship of the grains category of the annual Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is promoting innovative research that has game-changing potential.

Take for instance the recipient of the 2017 GRDC-sponsored award, Dr. Caitlin Byrt (pictured), whose studies are already having a significant impact.

A Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine here at the Waite, Dr Byrt has been using her GRDC sponsorship to study the roots of wild relatives of barley crops to determine what makes them so tolerant to saline conditions. She hopes that by crossing these traits into modern cultivars, higher grain yields can be achieved.

“There has already been a really exciting development – in collaboration with fellow GRDC-supported researchers we have identified a key gene in barley that is influencing the amount of sodium that accumulates in the leaves in saline conditions,” Dr Byrt said.

“I’m now further testing the function of this gene, and collaborating with researchers in Scotland to look at the variation in this gene in a larger range of wild relatives of barley.”

Dr Byrt’s studies into salt tolerance in barley follows a successful outcome from a similar project looking at a wild relative of wheat, another GRDC research investment. She was able to identify two key genes which made a wild wheat variety more salt tolerant, and these were crossed into modern cereal varieties.

The project achieved a 25 per cent increase in durum wheat grain yield in saline soils, and the traits and genes were distributed to more than 18 countries.

Dr Byrt says she hopes her barley project will ultimately result in Australian growers having access to cultivars with greater salt tolerance and the potential to lift yields and profits.

And she encourages 18 to 35-year-old innovators like herself to apply for grants through the Science and Innovation Awards which are designed to support early career researchers and scientists in developing new approaches to industry issues and, in turn, make Australia’s agricultural industries more productive and competitive.

Eleven industry award categories are available in the 2018 round of the awards which also support the career pathways of the award recipients and highlight the opportunities, innovation and technologies in modern agriculture.

Each winner will receive a grant of up to $22,000. One recipient of an industry category award will also receive the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Award, with additional project funding.

Applications close at 5pm AEDT on October 13, 2017. For further information on the awards, visit, email or phone 02 6272 2303 or 02 6272 2260.

Source: GRDC

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