Plant and Crop Genetics

Plants are not only a vital part of the global environment but also of significant economic value to society. They provide us with breathable air, food, fuel, clothes, medicine and shelter, as well as numerous ecosystem services required for a healthy planet. Studying plants is therefore of fundamental importance, not only because they are fascinating in their own right, but because insights into their biology underpin crop improvement programs. Research teams in the Plant and Crop Genetics grouping apply a range of molecular techniques to understand important traits in plants.
We use genetics, molecular biology, synthetic biology, and a range of ‘omics technologies and apply these to study model species, such as Arabidopsis thaliana, and important Australian crops, such as wheat and canola. Our research areas include environmental stress tolerance, seed biology, energy signalling, cell wall biology, plant development and plant physiology.

LABS / GROUPS

Research Labs and Groups associated with Plant and Crop Genetics include:

  • A/Prof. Ute Roessner – Plant Functional Genomics

    Lab head: Associate Professor Ute Roessner (contact)


    Objective

    The Roessner research group is interested in understanding how Australian crops, such as cereals and legumes, adapt and tolerate challenging environmental conditions including water and nutrient deficiencies, salinity, heat or cold. We are applying systems biology approaches such as genomics, transcriptomics, lipidomics and metabolomics to compare the biochemical responses of crop plants with contrasting tolerance levels to identify novel adaptation and tolerance mechanisms. One of our novel research avenues is to analyse these responses using spatially and temporally resolved measurements. One approach involves separation of different tissue types from roots to determine cellular responses to salt using different ‘omics approaches. Another approach uses enrichment of particular cellular components, such as plasma membranes, to compare their composition upon a stress treatment. Additionally, new analytical technologies, which are available in our lab, MALDI-Imaging Mass Spectrometry, are used to determine the spatial distribution of biomolecules across frozen tissue sections. In combination with computational analysis and visualisation methods we aim to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of abiotic stress adaptation and tolerance.

    We are facing the challenging task to meet the growing demand for food which must occur in an environment of a changing climate with increasing environmental stresses such as drought, extreme temperatures, nutrient deficiencies and mineral toxicities. Less land available to cultivate crops, declining water quality and prioritisation of biofuel production at the expense of food production further exacerbates the situation. We aim to develop and apply new analytical and computational tools to unravel how plants respond to the perception of stress factors which will facilitate the development of novel varieties with improved stress tolerance and water and nutrient efficiency maintaining their yield under challenging conditions.

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  • Dr Mike Haydon – Plant cell signaling

    Lab head: Dr Mike Haydon (contact)


    Objective

    Once a seed germinates, a plant is restricted to grow in that position for its life cycle. This exposes the plant to a range of predictable and unpredictable changes in its growth environment. For example, it is exposed to daily fluctuations in light availability and temperature, as well as shifts in availability of water and nutrients. Plants can also respond to unpredictable environmental events, such as extremes in temperature. To deal with this, plants must make ‘decisions' at key development stages, such as germination and flowering time, and optimise physiology to cope with rapid changes in conditions. Thus, plants have evolved signalling mechanisms to sense and respond to their environment. In the Haydon lab, our main interests are in energy signalling, cell wall signalling and the circadian clock, and how these impact on plant physiology and development. In particular, we are interested in the interactions between distinct environmental cues such as light and nutrient availability. We use genetics, chemical genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry to decipher the signalling pathways underpinning some of these adaptive mechanisms.

    Research Areas

    • Genetic and chemical genetic investigation of interactions between sugar and light signalling.
    • Roles for signalling from the plant cell wall in photomorphogenesis
    • Impact of nutrient status on the circadian network
    • Cell-type specific signatures in sugar signalling and the circadian clock

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  • Dr John Golz – Developmental Genetics of the model plant Arabidopsis

    Lab head: Dr John Golz (contact)


    Objective

    Work in the Golz group is centred on how complex patterns of gene expression are generated and maintained during cell-type specification and differentiation in multicellular organisms. This problem is being addressed in the model plant Arabidopsis through the analysis of a small group of transcriptional regulators that control cell differentiation in embryos, leaves and the outer layer of the seed coat. The group is also interested in understanding how these transcriptional regulators link developmental responses to environmental stimuli, such as heat and salt stress, as this knowledge underpins efforts to breed crops that can withstand the effects of climate change.

    The group is also translating knowledge of developmental regulation to improving the efficiency of genetic transformation in select crop species. The application of this technology will significantly reduce the cost of developing new crop varieties and help the agricultural industry more quickly assess the impact of certain genes on important agricultural traits such as disease resistance.

    Background

    Work in the Golz group mainly focuses on LEUNIG (LUG) and LEUNIG_HOMOLOG (LUH), two closely related proteins with extensive structural similarity to the transcriptional co-repressor found in yeast, Drosophila and mammals. Neither LUG nor LUH are capable of binding DNA directly, and must therefore interact with DNA binding co-factors (transcription factors; TF) if they are to be recruited to the regulatory sequences of target genes. Some of these interactions are direct, whereas others are indirect and occur via the adaptor proteins SEUSS (SEU) or SEU-LIKE (SLK1-3). As a result of these interactions, LUG/LUH are part of a large regulatory complex.

    The group has shown that the LUG regulatory complex diverse processes in the plant including stem cell formation required for sustained plant growth, cell fate acquisition in developing organs, and pectin modification in the developing seed coat. Given the importance of these co-repressors in developmental regulation, the group is continuing to characterize their function.

    Research Areas

    • Defining and characterizing transcription factors that are part of the LUG regulatory complex
    • Identifying the network of regulatory pathways controlled by LUG/LUH and SEU/SLK during embryonic and post-embryonic development
    • Investigating the role of the LUG regulatory complex in stress response pathways
    • Developing novel approaches to improve the efficiency of genetic transformation in Brassica crops

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  • Dr Alexandre Fournier-Level - Adaptive Evolution

    Lab head: Dr Alexandre Fournier-Level (Contact)

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  • Dr Alex Johnson - Plant Nutrition

    Lab head: Dr Alex Johnson (Contact)


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