Research Programs
P1: Energy Metabolism and Signalling
Program Leaders: Ian Small and Owen Atkin.

Program 1 focuses on cellular functions.

The chloroplast/plastid and the mitochondrion are the two major organelles in plant cells. These organelles co-operate to direct plant cell energy capture and storage of this energy in the form of sugars, starch, oils, protein and fibre - all of which are major agricultural products.

The metabolism of plant organelles underlies the growth and performance of a plant, including its ability to withstand environmental stresses. The Centre has previously shown that chloroplasts and mitochondria are environmental sensors that control growth. Environmental variables such as light, temperature, water and nutrient availability all interact with plant energy systems via signalling processes.

The complex and ancient ways in which organelle function and efficiency are influenced and respond to the environment form the foundation of how plants control conversion of energy to functionally useful forms.

P2: Gatekeeper Cells and Specialisation
Program Leaders: Matthew Gilliham and Jim Whelan

Program 2 focuses on cell types and their interactions in plants.

Australia is the most saline continent on Earth. Approximately 69% of the Australian wheat belt is susceptible to the build-up of salts which are inhibitory to plant growth. The extent of worldwide salinity is forecast to increase in the coming decades due to climate change and a greater reliance on marginal land. Meanwhile, global supplies of phosphate are running out. Being an essential macronutrient for plants, growth and yield can be severely limited when phosphate is not supplied as a fertiliser.

Acquisition of necessary nutrients, control of resource transport and the exclusion and cellular detoxification of harmful substances are energy intensive for plants. To secure our future food security we require plants that are more efficient at these processes. Key cell-types often form rate-limiting steps within the transport pathway of nutrients, metabolites and toxins in plant. We call these strategically located cells “gatekeepers”.

P3: Gene Variants and Epigenetics
Program Leaders: Ryan Lister and Justin Borevitz

Program 3 focuses on plants in populations and across generations.

Across diverse and changing habitats of agriculture and ecosystems, crop and wild plant populations fine-tune and adapt their energy systems to survive and thrive. Natural genetic diversity underlies complex and adaptive traits responding to natural selection. The molecular basis of these traits can now be mined from plant genomes by unifying modern genomics technologies with precision phenotyping and sensitive environmental observation. This allows prediction traits and selection of individual plants or populations.

In addition to determining the genetic components underlying complex traits an organism, it may be important to understand the epigenetic codes that govern where and when the genetic information is used. Epigenetic modifications that do not alter the genome sequence but that can regulate the readout of the underlying genetic information may be environmentally sensitive and/or heritable.

Knowledge of the underlying variation that governs complex plant functions will allow selection and engineering of plants for future variable environments to be done with far more precision.

P1 Overview

P2 Overview

P3 Overview