2017 Plant Nutrition Trust Award reports



Wenli Ding

University of Western Australia


It was really an honour to be awarded the Plant Nutrition Trust Award. I attended the International Plant Nutrition Colloquium from 21st to 24th August 2017 in Copenhagen. I have to say, this was really a professionally rewarding experience.

As an international conference, there were lots of interesting talks, especially those from the keynote speakers. The speakers not only informed us of what has been studied in the research areas, but also speculated about new developments for the future. I gained new insights into research experimentation, which can be hard to obtain through reading papers. For example, how to use X-ray fluorescence microscopy to get the plant nutrient distribution in plant tissues. As a young researcher, this was really an eye-opening opportunity for me.

The conference was definitely a great chance to socialise with researchers from all over the world. I tried to introduce myself to some professors after their talks or during the conference breaks. We discussed their research and outlined connections to my own research investigations. This provide me with ideas to help advance my own research. In particular, one professor showed genunine interest in offering me a postdoc position. Attending academic conferences is a great way for young researches to build academic connections and invaluable experience.

Most importantly, I presented a poster at this conference, and gave a 3-min talk in the speaking corner about what I discovered and what I propose to do in the future. Even though it is not the same as giving a seminar in the big hall, I did advance my speaking skills and answering people’s questions was a good challenge.  I also learned more about my own research through explaining areas of my research that were confusing to others and listening to their invaluable suggestions.

In summary, I acquired genuine new knowledge related to my research area and developed new relationships with key professors in the area of plant nutrition. I have also learned how to explain myself and convince others of my research ideas and findings. These experiences were most definitely helpful in advancing my own research career. Finally, I want to say thank the Plant Nutrition Trust committee, for giving me the chance to use the funds and attend such an amazing conference.

Contact: Wenli Ding




Feifei Wang

School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania


I am honored to receive Plant Nutrition funding support to attend the 19th International Botanical Congress (IBC) in China. The conference was hold in Shenzhen during July 23rdto 29th, 2017, under the auspices of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), through the International Association of Botanical and Mycological Societies (IABMS) of the IUBS. Many world’s top experts present their exciting new findings in major plenary sessions and in a wide array of symposia. During the conference, I made one oral presentation named “Oxygen sensing in plant roots linked with ion channel operation: Revealing the roles of calcium transporters in response to hypoxia and salinity in Arabidopsis” in “Calcium transport and signaling” symposium on Friday, 28thJuly. After my presentation, many questions were asked about the possibility and potential role of TPC1 channel as oxygen sensor in plant. We also talked about the TPC1 function under combined hypoxia and salinity stress. One conference paper was published on line after this conference, and I also gained some new knowledge and skills through this conference.

Finally, thanks for giving me this chance to the conference. I really appreciate that. It indeed improved my research ability and profiled my research project. Thanks again.

Contact: Feifei Wang




David Minemba

University of Western Australia


As recipient of The Plant Nutrition Trust Award, I visited LSU AgCenter and its Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, Manroe. It also coincided with the Annual International Meeting of America Society of Agronomy, America Society of Soil Science and Crop Science Society of America and I attended as a member at Tampa Convention Centre, Florida.

LSU AgCenter, Sweet Potato Research Station conducts pioneering research on role of phosphorus on sweet potato root structure and architecture. This work compliments my PhD research project aimed at understanding root rhizosphere properties of sweet potato in low Phosphate soils.  I also attended the meeting in Tampa purposely to meet and network with other international researchers who are involved in related studies to my PhD research project. I met many graduate students working on fields related to root rhizosphere as well as functions of microbial community that exists in the soil.

This report highlight activities and contact made with other researchers on this trip.

Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, Monroe

The LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase is devoted mainly to sweet potato research and development in the United States of America. Its mission is to produce and supply high quality seed stock to commercial sweet potato growers and conduct research in various disciplines to support the industry in the country. Some of the commercial sweet potato varieties used around the world, including Beauregard were developed from LSU AgCenter.

Research into understanding the root system architecture and role of external soil nutrients on root development and storage root formation of sweet potato conducted at AgCenter is at very advanced stages. Variability in storage root yield of sweet potato is quite common in every country that grow sweet potato and remains a challenge. Understanding the root rhizosphere properties could potentially explain this variability and is the focus of my PhD research project. The pioneering work on sweet potato root system architecture at LSU AgCenter by Prof Villordon compliments research interest and was the main basis of many productive interaction during my visit.

LSU, AgCentre

The AgCenter at Louisiana State University hosts a wide range of disciplines in agriculture. One is the plant pathology section. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr Chris Clark, a plant pathologist involved mostly in sweet potato pathogens. Dr Clark has many year of experience and has documented most sweet potato pathogens known in the USA and elsewhere. I also had useful conversations with Mrs Mary Hoy, a tissue culture specialist who manages supply of tissue cultured plantlets to the clean seed supply system.

Dr Clark and I had conversations on the potential role of root exudates and its interactions with microbial community in the soil and its effect on soil borne pathogens of sweet potato. My study on measuring the root exudates and the microbial community could potentially contribute to understanding the effects of microbial agents on soil borne pathogens of sweet potato.

The Conference in Tampa, Florida

The American Society of Agronomy, crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America had their 2017 Annual International Meeting with the theme “Managing Global Resources for a Secure Future” in Tampa, Florida. I attended that meeting as recommended by Prof Arthur Villordon, who is my co supervisor, as it is a good opportunity to meet and network with scientist and resource people around the world.

Perceived benefits from my travel and visitations

Confirming the knowledge gap and building confidence

The discussion I had with Dr Villordon, who published widely on topics related to the role of phosphorus on sweet potato root system and architecture, indicated that my research on understanding the rhizosphere properties of sweet potato will certainly add value to knowledge gap needed to resolved persistent variability in storage root yield of sweet potato known to exist in many countries. This also gave the confidence that my work has relevance and a source of inspiration to complete well my remaining experiments and successfully complete my PhD study.

Identified potential collaborations

My visit to LSU AgCenter also stimulated discussions on collaboration work as an extension to my PhD research project. Dr Villordon has offered to provide his expertise as best as he could from his experience elsewhere on projects similar to the proposed collaborations.

I also had cross discipline discussions with Dr Chris Clark, a sweet potato disease specialist. He has an opinion that the root exudates and microbial community in the root rhizosphere could potentially suppress effects of soil borne pathogens of sweet potato. My next experiment has an object to unveil the microbiome in the root rhizosphere of sweet potato cultivars at different P rates. Hope a potential candidate microbial agent be identified from this work and hopefully that could further developed into a collaborative partnership.

Improved on a research technique

I had issues in establishing a good Phosphate response curve in my experimentation. I can now improve on that from tips I learned from Dr Villordon. He demonstrated that very contrasting P response can be achieved by establishing sweet potato from zero P medium to drain out the P reserves in the stem cutting and shoots before transplanting in trials pots. This will greatly assist in developing very contrasting response difference needed for my next experiment.

Collection of relevant literature and publications

Dr Villordon had a more updated collection of literature on sweet potato research in the world. He provided me the copy and that will greatly add value to improving my literature review section of my thesis.

I made good contact with resource people

At the Annual International Meeting in Tampa, I made a good number of contacts with graduate researchers and specialist in areas related to my research work. We exchanged contact information and I look forward to make contact with them during the cause of my study and beyond.


This productive trip would not have been possible without the funding support from Plant Nutrition Trust Award and I am grateful to Dr Peter Ryan and his team for this funding opportunity. I also acknowledge the support from UWA Graduate Research School.

My supervisors Associate Prof. Megan Ryan and Prof. Arthur Villordon have not only suggested for me to take trip but have given me all the support needed to make this trip to the United States very successful. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was truly a fulfilling experience in my PhD journey. I had pleasant interactions with Dr Chris Clark and Mrs Mary Hoy at LSU AgCenter. They allowed me to appreciate sweet potato disease in relation my research focus and also gave me the opportunity to visit LSU Rural Life Museum. Finally, the hospitability I got from Ms Susan Karimiha at Baton Rouge and Prof Arthur and family at Manroe were second to none for which I am very thankful.

Contact: David Minemba

Plant Nutrition for Global Green Growth



Cui Li

I am honoured to be one of the recipients of The 2017 Plant Nutrition Trust Award, granted by Australian Society of Plant Scientists. Thanks to this generous support, I attended my very first International Plant Nutrition Colloquium (IPNC), combined with Boron and Manganese satellite meetings, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 19 to 24 August 2017.

I am a third year PhD student from School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane. My study area is on the absorption and translocation of foliar-applied nutrient fertilizers. The IPNC was the best conference that I have attended. Not only because the topic of the conference suited my study area, but also because it inspired through high quality of seminars and and poster presentations. This was especially true for the keynote presentations, which were given by world-leading scientists within the field.

The main theme of the 18th IPNC was: “Plant Nutrition for Global Green Growth”. Indeed, the conference involved presentations on macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium, and micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, and boron. Furthermore, a range of plant species were considered, from arabidopsis and rapeseed to wheat and rice, with the focus of the research also being diverse, from nutrient transporters to next generation fertilisers. For example, I particularly enjoyed the keynote presentation given by Marta Vasconcelos titled “Impact of climate change on plant nutrition” which illustrated the effects of increasing atmospheric COon crop growth and nutrient status. This presentation encouraged me to think of the study of plant nutrition at a more interdisciplinary level – not only should we study the relationship between plants and nutrients, but also we should consider the effects of other factors on plant nutrition such as the changing climate, the succession of nutrients in soil agriculture system, and the increasing human population as well as decreasing land area. I also enjoyed the presentation by Jianfeng Ma titled “Molecular mechanisms for distribution of mineral elements in plants” which was inspiring in that it clearly explained how nutrients are allocated and transported within plants, giving consideration to symptoms we can see using our naked eye to the underlying physiology and molecular mechanisms. I also benefited a lot from the keynote presentations by Peter Kopittke and Søren Husted which shared new analytical methods and techniques can be used in the field of plant nutrition with clear examples.

On the 22nd August, I gave an oral presentation about my PhD research, entitled “Understanding how foliar-applied Zn fertilizer moves across the leaf surface in sunflower and soybean”. A particular focus of my presentation was describing a novel role for trichomes in the absorption of foliar-applied nutrients. My research drew the attention of Victoria Fernandez who is a well-known scientist in the field of foliar fertilisation and who also a keynote speaker at the IPNC. We had a lengthy discussion with interest, and she insightful suggestions. Most importantly, she expressed her interest to collaborate in the future, with this being an important achievement for me at this conference. There were also others who presented their work within the topic of foliar fertilisation. These presentations provided an overview of the current studies and showed that the mechanisms of foliar nutrients absorption and translocation are still not fully understood. It is also interesting that it was found that foliar fertilisation is often not helpful for plants that are already severely nutrient stressed, thus it is important to develop methods that can recognise plant nutrients deficiency at the early stages. The photo shows Victoria Fernandez (right side) and myself.

I truly appreciated the generosity and support of the Plant Nutrition Trust Travel Awards. I have gained knowledge, expanded my horizons, and met face-to-face with researchers from all over the world in the field of plant nutrition. Moreover, it has firmed my determination to continue as a researcher within the field of plant nutrition!

Contact: Cui Li