Murdoch students take out plant pathology prizes

November 3, 2011

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Two Murdoch University students have taken out top prizes in the fifth annual Australasian Plant Pathology Society (APPS) student presentation competition.

PhD student, Matthew Tan and Masters student, Amy Smith, won "Best Presentation" and "Peer Award" prizes respectively for their presentations.

Mr Tan spoke about his work developing new molecular diagnostic methods to identify nematode pathogens of crop plants.

Nematodes are microscopic unsegmented roundworms that attack plant roots.

Mr Tan's research presents a new method for identifying nematodes using molecular-based anti-primer technology normally only used in cancer research.

"It is a variation of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can be used to amplify target DNA, but with a twist that it allows fluorescent labels to be used in such a way that many different nematodes can be identified in one reaction," Mr Tan said.

"With this technology, at the moment we can detect up to six different nematode species in a single run, but with some tweaking this should be extended to detect up to 12-18 species in a single run if present, which would be a really significant advance in the detection of nematode pathogens. 

"Once a grower knows what pest is attacking the roots of their plants and how many are present, the correct control method can be applied to solve the nematode problem."

Mr Tan's PhD is supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity.

Ms Smith took out the "Peer Award" for her presentation on pathogens in Western Australian nursery plants.

She has conducted a targeted survey at two wholesale plant nurseries in Western Australia over the course of one year to identify water moulds present in plant stock being sold to retail nurseries.

The meeting, held at the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA) on 27 October was open to all WA Universities. The free meeting was attended by 50 people from all major institutions across WA and the general public was also invited to attend.

It is the second year in a row a member of Murdoch's "Plant Biotechnology Research Group" has won the "Best Presentation" prize and a member from the "Centre for Phytophthora Science and Management" has won the "Peer Award" prize in the competition.

The "Best Presentation" prize of $400 was sponsored by Syngenta and the "Peer Award" prize of $150 and a book titled Essential plant pathology from the American Phytopathological Society (APS) Press was sponsored by Bayer and APS Press.

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