Joanna Melonek

Posted: Aug 20th, 2019

Research Fellow

Dr Joanna Melonek is a research fellow in Professor Ian Small’s PEB lab at The University of Western Australia. Joanna’s career path has taken her from a Master’s thesis in her home country of Poland, to a PhD position in Germany, then on to postdoctoral work in sunny Perth, Australia. Her research focuses on plant mitochondria, and in particular a family of proteins known as pentatricopeptide repeat proteins (PPRs).

“I’m particularly interested in a sub-set of PPRs called restorer-of-fertility proteins as they have potential application in hybrid crop breeding. Hybrid crop varieties typically produce higher and more stable yields under changing environmental conditions. As such, this research into molecular tools for hybrid crop production could help in meeting the future food demands for our growing human population,” said Joanna.

In 2018 Joanna was awarded an Early Career Award by the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC), which supported efforts to showcase her new findings on the PPR family to the international wheat genomics and broader scientific community at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego (US). These findings come about through a collaboration between herself, Professor Small, Professor Nils Stein, and Dr. Ruonan Zhou.

“I think that I was really lucky to team up with Professor Nils Stein from The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. I still remember my first meeting with Nils that I set up during the Plant Genomics conference in London in 2015 (and how nervous I was!). At first, due to restrictions form our commitments to industrial partners we decided to collaborate only on barley and rye genomes. For this collaborative project we got support from the Australia-Germany Joint Research Co‑operation Scheme. After few bilateral visits Nils invited us to join the IWGSC to analyse the PPR family in the wheat Chinese Spring genome. Luckily for us this analysis was included in the article describing the first fully assembled and annotated wheat reference genome published last year in Science. These collaborative projects made me realise how much more effective science is when researchers with expert knowledge in different areas engage in a collaborative research!”

Joanna’s plans for the future involve a continued focus on the PPR protein family she has become so interested in.

“In the future I hope to continue my work on cereal genomics, in particular PPR-mediated restoration of fertility and the application of this to hybrid crop breeding. This research will be valuable, not only to the scientific community, but to plant breeders looking to develop new hybrid varieties, particularly in globally significant crops where hybrids have historically been difficult to create, such as wheat and barley.”