Grants harvest ideas from diverse research fields

Man holding a snail on his finger

Dr Michael Stewart and colleagues at the University
of the Sunshine Coast will be working new molluscicides
to control snails with the assistance of a $150,000
Innovation Investment grant from the GRDC.

PHOTO: University of the Sunshine Coast

A method for controlling snails and slugs with a new genetic technology, and a breeding program for canola resistance to blackleg, are two of the five projects that have been selected to receive the inaugural Innovation Investment grants from the GRDC.

To be offered twice each year, the grants are for up to $150,000 for projects from any field that hold the potential to improve the grains industry. They were established to gather ideas from all fields of research, recognising that some of the most influential grains innovations sometimes come from outside the immediate sphere of grains science.

Paul Meibusch, manager for commercial farm technologies, GRDC, says the process of selecting from 170 applications revealed the vast range of ideas and innovations being developed to improve farming systems in Australia.

“While most of our current research partners were represented, we also had more than 50 entries from individuals, companies and groups that we have previously never dealt with,” Mr Meibusch says.

“The scope of the applications was also very wide, covering high-end science through to farm engineering.”

With snails and slugs a growing problem for the southern region, these pests were the focus of two of the five projects funded.

  • Dr Derek Russell from the University of Melbourne, aims to use a new genetic approach to develop a novel snail and slug bait. The active agent being developed will be highly selective to the pests, increasing efficacy and reducing the risk of off-target impacts.
  • Dr Michael Stewart, Dr Scott Cummins and Dr Tianfang Wang from the University of the Sunshine Coast received a grant for a project investigating the neurohormones of snails and slugs, with the aim of harnessing them for new and better molluscicides. Working from a background in neurohormones, the team has discovered a number of specific proteins that regulate snail behaviours such as mating and feeding. The idea of incorporating these products into a molluscicide has never been attempted and offers a new approach to pesticide development.
  • The Australian National University’s Dr Iain Searle received funding for breeding canola with wild relatives to introduce genes that are resistant to blackleg. His laboratory will use a technology it has developed called EzyCross, which boosts the number of successful hybrid seeds and does not rely on tissue culture techniques or facilities. This will allow the integration of novel genes from distant relatives into the breeding program, potentially opening up a range of new sources of disease resistance and other useful traits.
  • Kelly Hill and Dr Richard Glatz from the South Australian Research and Development Institute will be using their grant to develop cheaper, more efficient diagnostic methods for screening against plant pathogenic fungi. These will be based on antibody-type molecules known as aptamers that bind to target molecules; in this case the pathogen spores. The potential for a field-based test that detects a pathogen before the regular symptoms appear will give growers more time to respond and be more accurate in their response.
  • At the University of Tasmania, Dr Mandeep Kaur will be working on new methods for measuring the amount of pre-harvest sprouting in grain, with the hope of replacing the falling number test for the assessment of weather damage. Based on electrophysiological techniques, the method aims to be quick, simple and suitable for use on-farm and in grain depots. 

Round 2 of the Innovation Investments program closes on Sunday 31 March 2013, visit for more information.

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