Murdoch research centre revolutionises grains research

June 11, 2018

Ag partnership: Prof Jones (left) and Prof Francki celebrate a milestone for WA agbiotech

The State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) has played a pivotal role in transforming plant breeding for the Western Australian grains industry over the past 25 years.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development – and its previous incarnations – has been a long time collaborator with Murdoch University at the Centre.

At a recent event to celebrate the SABC’s silver anniversary, keynote speaker, department senior research officer Michael Francki, said molecular genomics research had revolutionised grains plant breeding.

Francki, who is an adjunct Professor at Murdoch University, said the development and application of molecular marker technology, which pinpoints genes or groups of genes that ‘mark’ traits in the plant such as yield and disease resistance, had led to the advancement of high performance varieties that addressed specific needs.

“The use of DNA marker technology greatly improves the efficiency of selecting breeding lines with improved yield and grain quality that are capable of overcoming production constraints,” he said.

“Nowadays, no modern plant breeding program is complete without molecular marker technology.”

Many of the early advancements in DNA marker technology were made possible by the Value Added Wheat and Molecular Plant Breeding Co-operative Research Centre projects, supported by the Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC), which were based at the SABC.

“These projects were instrumental in developing DNA marker and supporting platforms for plant breeding and we have been able to further advance these technologies since those early days,” Professor Francki said.

The SABC is also home to the Western Barley Genetics Alliance, a partnership between the Department and Murdoch University to undertake barley pre-breeding research with the support of the GRDC.

The alliance recently made a significant contribution to an international consortium that developed a complete map of the barley genome in 2017, which will lead to new and improved barley varieties.

The centre has also hosted research by the department on lupin pre-breeding, contributing to the development of high density genetic maps with markers linked to genes for key disease and agronomic traits.

An integral part of the success of the department’s relationship with SABC has been engaging with beneficiaries to ensure science and technology outputs generate superior grain varieties.

“Department officers at the SABC work with public and private plant breeding programs to deliver new scientific knowledge and germplasm with desired traits, as well as services in marker-assisted selection to the commercial plant breeding sector,” Professor Francki said.

The Department is currently working on research at the centre to identify genes with resistance to the fungal disease Stagonospora nodorum blotch, funded by the GRDC, and a project to identify genetic markers for early emergence and high grain fill rates in wheat.

Professor Francki said the SABC would continue to have an important position in grains pre-breeding research, which was essential to support endeavours to keep the Western Australian grains industry internationally competitive.

“There is great potential to enhance research synergies between Murdoch University and the Department,” he said.

“For example, validating the laboratory research at the SABC in glasshouse and field trials, using the GRDC funded Crop Research Hub at Murdoch University and the Department’s upgraded Northam Grains Research Facilities.

“This will not only generate efficiencies, it will also accelerate the delivery of new, improved varieties to growers, crafted to suit WA’s unique environment.”

Acting Dean of Murdoch University’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Professor Richard Harper, said the success of the centre was the result of a productive working relationship with its partners and clients.

“Relationships, such as with DPIRD, are immensely valuable, not only by strengthening research but also providing opportunities for Murdoch’s agricultural science students,” Professor Harper said.

“In this case it was seen as being pivotal in building future skills for the WA grains industry.”

SABC director Mike Jones said the SABC provided a forum for collaboration that stimulated research synergies between a variety of public and private sector stakeholders, in a university environment that nurtures the next generation of scientists.

“While the SABC offers state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for agricultural and veterinary biotechnology research, it is much more than that,” Professor Jones said.

“This unique relationship ensures the university’s and the State’s scientific capacity continues to grow and meet the ever changing needs of the WA agricultural sector, as it seeks to compete in the global marketplace.”

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