“The interaction between the different cell types of the plant are controlled through complex physical, chemical and environmental signals”
The first half of 2016 has been a busy time for the study of whole plants. Several teams of researchers across the country have been awarded funding for questions at the whole plant scale as well as some significant recognition to individuals in the field.
Congratulations to Professor Peter Waterhouse from the Queensland University of Technology for his Laureate Fellowship to investigate how plants distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ genes. The implications for this research certainly have broad repercussions for plant scale research, particularly among agricultural efforts to improve crop production.
Many other researchers across the country have had significant success in securing research funding for plant scale research with some common themes emerging. Management of plants in urban landscapes has been recognised twice in this years ARC Linkage programs. Dr Jie Li and the team at RMIT are focused on the management of trees in suburban environments and the unique challenges faced by soil conditions in close proximity to building structures. Again with a focus on trees in urban landscapes, Dr Stephen Livesley and the team at the University of Melbourne are investigating the role that urban tree plantings have on biodiversity and strategically address the management challenges faced by local councils in maintaining them. Both of these projects reflect the increasing recognition that plants are a critical component for society outside of natural and food production systems.
Some of the most fundamental questions related to whole plant research pertain to the development of plant architecture. Professor John Bowman and the team at Monash University have secured ARC Discovery funding to investigate the development of plant architecture and how it is regulated. Also in the ARC Discovery scheme, Dr Gavin Flematti and the team at the University of Western Australia secured support to investigate the role of a yet to be characterised hormone in seed germination and seedling development whilst Dr Oliver van Aiken (also at the University of Western Australia) secured ARC Discovery funding to investigate the touch response in plants. Combined, these topics illustrate that there is still so much to learn about the fundamental nature of plants.
One of the most significant ways for researchers to develop their research activities is through the award of Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) also from the ARC. These awards enable early career researchers to pursue questions and foster research programs with long lasting repercussions. This year we have three DECRA awardees in the field of plant science. Dr Simon Williams (Australian National University) is working on protecting wheat from necrotropic fungi, Dr Reena Narsai (LaTrobe University) is working to improve germination rates in cereals and Dr Stefane Wege (University of Adelaide) is investigating how plants acquire and cope with chloride. Congratulations to Simon, Reena and Stefane on their achievement. The scope of the projects no doubt reflects the importance of plant health to our environmental, economic and social welfare.
There are many events on the horizon for ‘whole plant’ scientists. One of the best places to check for upcoming events is the ASPS website under the ‘events’ tab (https://www.asps.org.au/events). Of particular note for whole plant research is the upcoming phenotyping workshop being held in Canberra from the 18th-23rd September. In recent years, advancements in high throughput phenotyping have been rapid and there is no better place to learn about these developments than this workshop.
Overseas there are many upcoming conferences as usual during the northern hemisphere summer period. Of particular note is the 17th International Photosynthesis conference held in Maastricht (Netherlands) this year from the 7th -12th August (http://www.ps2016.com). Also The European Plant Biology congress is in Prague (Czech Repuplic) from the 26-30th June (http://www.europlantbiology2016.org) with a great array of topics on the agenda. Every year the ASPS support numerous scientists to attend conferences such as these, particularly useful for those ECR and PhD students seeking to broaden their profile and make links with international researchers.
On a final note, please let me know of any major achievements by whole plant researchers that might otherwise go unrecognised. I am particularly interested in hearing from achievements by PhD or early career researchers that may not get recognition via the regular avenues. I would be delighted to help raise the profile of people (or teams) who are making major achievements across any aspect of ‘whole plant’ research.
Dr Andrew Merchant
Australian Research Council Future Fellow
Senior Lecturer in Plant Metabolism
Faculty of Agriculture and the Environment
University of Sydney