SABC a ‘hotspot’ for agbiotech research for 25 years

June 7, 2018

Futureproofing food: Prof Mike Jones has played a key role in developing WA agricultural research.

Australia’s first agricultural biotechnology research hotel has demonstrated its staying power, celebrating its 25th anniversary at Murdoch University this week.

The WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre was offically opened in 1993 as a shared facility for Western Australian researchers to gain access to the specialised equipment and molecular expertise needed in advanced plant and animal research.

SABC Director Professor Mike Jones said the Centre has played a pivotal role in developing Western Australia into a hotspot of agricultural biotechnology research excellence.

“Through a rapid revolution in technologies of molecular biology, DNA sequencing, genetic manipulation and genome editing, the SABC has brought together a range of biotechnology expertise to work on agricultural, horticultural, forestry and veterinary problems in WA,” he said.

“Agricultural biotechnology has changed rapidly over the past 25 years, particularly in the application of new technologies to plant and animal breeding. Amongst a host of other achievements, the SABC has played a key role in accelerating breeding programs to tailor them for environmental conditions and disease relevant to WA.

“Currently 10 per cent of the world’s food crops are classified as ‘GM’, including 35 per cent of WA’s canola crop, and SABC researchers are now working on a series of new genome editing projects to improve wheat, barley and potato crops in WA.”

Professor Jones said the unique ‘user-pays’ inclusive model of the SABC is the key to its long-term success.

“The SABC has been able to provide researchers from universities, State Government, industry and start-up companies with access to state-of-the-art technologies and specialised expertise without unnecessary expensive duplication,” he said.

“Through this centralised research hotel, Western Australian molecular biology expertise has flourished, with researchers collaborating closely to solve complex agricultural problems and to develop Western Australia into a hotspot for entrepreneurship in biotechnology.

“Along with thriving research hubs in WA universities and governnment, the shared facility of the SABC has fostered a number of commercial agbio enterprises in WA. These include companies such as  Proteomics International, Grain Biotech Australia, Edstar Genetics, Saturn Biotech, Nemgenix Py Ltd, ProteoWA and smaller start ups such as MALDI-ID and Green Blueprint.”

Professor Jones said the SABC has had a long and productive history of collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) to improve WA farming through helping develop new varieties of crops and improved pest and disease control. It has also contributed to animal health and production, from parasitology and viral diseases to ticks and water-borne pathogens.

“Together with DPIRD, the SABC has become a meeting point for industry and researchers, informing farmers and industry of new approaches and possibilities in agriculture,” Professor Jones said.

“We have also received invaluable support from core funding agencies like the Grains Resarch and Development Corporation, Horticulture Innovation Australia, the Australian Research Council and participated in many cooperative research centres.”

Professor Jones said one of the best results from research training at the SABC was a cadre of high quality agricultural biotechnology talent now found working in Western Australia and in many parts of the globe.

“The SABC is a fertile environment for research training, and exposes PhD students to a wide range of ideas and techniques,” Professor Jones said.

“Many former students now hold senior positions in WA and across the world including Professorial appointments and CEO positions in agroinnovation companies”

“Agricultural productivity is becoming increasingly important to the economy of WA, with a target set to double production by 2025. This will only be achieved using the best science and technology, with agricultural biotechnology playing a critical role.

“We look forward to the SABC continuing to undertake leading research to benefit growers and all those involved in agriculture in the State and beyond.”

The SABC celebrates its 25th anniversary on June 8 with a one day symposium presenting the latest research at the Centre and presentations from previous researchers in leading positions in WA and overseas.

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Media contact: Pepita Smyth
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Categories: General, Murdoch achievements, Research, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Research, agriculture
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