GENETICS and MOLECULAR BIOLOGY is a scientific discipline that aims to discover the mechanisms by which plants acclimate and adapt to environmental and developmental change. This discipline encompasses aspects from the (epi)genome to the phenotype, discovering how the nucleus, metabolic pathways, cellular processes and energy organelles interact to communicate effectively and orchestrate plant growth, survival and ultimately reproduction.
ASPS members strive to discover the specific functions of genes and proteins, that provide a fundamental understanding of the complex processes shaping a plant. The aim is to comprehend how plants work at a sub-cellular level and how the interplay of tens-of-thousands of genes control plant growth and development. This is done using traditional and emerging technologies (e.g. next generation sequencing, genetic engineering, forward and reverse genetics, phenomics, metabolomics, proteomics, biochemical assays, epigenetic profiling). Technical progress in recent years has allowed scientists to profile molecules (e.g. RNA, DNA, proteins, metabolites) in a high-throughput fashion and to reveal their intricate interactions on a whole system scale. This research is supported by state-of-the-art facilities across Australia, giving researchers access to the latest ‘omics technologies, next-generation sequencing instruments and phenotyping platforms. Although model plant species such as Arabidopsis thaliana, tomato and rice are still the workhorses driving basic research, technologies are increasingly being adopted for applied approaches across a diverse range of crop species especially for comparative genomics, crop biofortication and in ecological studies.
Research topics include:
- Identification and functional analyses of genes involved in the acclimation and transgenerational adaptation to biotic and abiotic stresses such as mechanical stimulation, pathogen infection, nutrient deficiency, salinity and drought.
- Understanding the biochemistry of light conversion, carbon fixation, photosynthesis and plant energy production.
- Unraveling of gene and protein networks involved in plant energy organelle interactions, plant cell wall biosynthesis, translational photosynthesis and plant-microbe interactions.
- Determining the role of epigenetic modifications on a plant’s life cycle and memory formation to prolonged environmental stimuli.
- Analysis of molecular mechanisms controlling plant secondary metabolism in response to a changing environment.
- Understanding how plants can adapt to long term environmental change across generations bringing genetics and epigenetics to the forefront of new emerging strategies to improve crop biofortication and hybrid vigor.
Research generated by the genetics and molecular biology discipline is highly valuable and translatable by providing genetic targets for crop improvement and to design ‘smarter and hardier plants’. Outcomes will improve the sustainable intensification of food production and biofortication during environmental change and help feed an increasing human population. Genetics and molecular biology can improve crop yield and nutrition, with the same amount of land, less water, less fertilizers and a reduced usage of pesticides. The ASPS can provide alternative solutions to agricultural and horticultural problems by using genetic and molecular technologies to improve sustainability and enhance energy efficiency whilst preserving our natural ecosystems.
(by Dr Oliver Berkowitz and Dr Chris Cazzonelli)