Young scientists on the cutting edge

left to right: Ryan Whitford, Adrienne Sexton, Justin Coombs, Narelle Tyler, Rebecca Brown, GRDC Board Chairman Grant Latta, Hayley Norman and Robert Lee.

One of the GRDC's most productive investments is in people — among them young, talented scientists on the way up, who do much of the groundwork needed to achieve the research breakthroughs vital to the Australian grains industry. A number of these researchers hold Grains Industry Research Scholarships, previously called Junior Research Fellowships, supported by graingrowers and the Federal Government through the GRDC.

The GRDC Board recently heard at first hand what graingrowers and the government are getting for their investment. At a meeting with the Board in Glenelg, South Australia, the seven scholarship holders gave presentations on their projects.

Here, and in the next issue of Ground Cover we take a look at their work (and here's a quick peek at their impressive extra-curricular activities).

Adrienne Sexton

Adrienne Sexton

Can breeders safely rid mustard of sulphur-containing compounds?

The Australian mustard industry is small but has potential. However, glucosilonates containing sulphur limit the use of mustard seed oil in edible products. So it makes sense to look at reducing these compounds — but are we then depriving the mustard of a defence against the blackleg fungus Leptosphaeria maculans?

Adrienne Sexton's work at the University of Melbourne suggests that 2-propenyl glucosinolate does not play a major role in blackleg disease resistance in Indian mustard. This may be because the fungus detoxifies or evades the toxic effects of breakdown products from this glucosilonate. Dr Sexton investigated one particular gene in the fungus which may be contributing to the fungus' ability to overcome these toxic effects during infection of Indian mustard or canola. She also studied several other fungal genes involved in degrading plant compounds during infection — a field in which until now little has been known.

Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown

Looking at anti-microbial proteins

In response to disease attack, plants may produce anti-microbial proteins that provide protection against a range of fungi, bacteria and viruses. This is known as systemic acquired resistance.

Rebecca Brown's project at the University of Queensland examined how the production of these anti-microbial proteins is controlled within plants. An understanding of these complex processes may provide new means for disease control in crop plants. Chemicals may be designed that stimulate the plant's inherent disease resistance. Another possibility would be genetically modified plants that have strong defence responses to infection.

Robert Lee

Robert Lee

Understanding cereal cell walls

Robert Lee is interested in a family of enzymes called arabinoxylan-arabinohydrolases. These enzymes modify polysaccharides in the cell walls of plants during seedling growth, where they are thought to play a role in cell wall structure and strength. The cell walls of cereals such as barley are particularly rich in these molecules. Mr Lee's research project has involved the purification of these enzymes from barley seedling extracts to study the way in which they act on their polysaccharide substrates. He has also used the information contained within the protein sequence to clone the genes for several of these enzymes.

Good sports, these fellows —

Just so you won't think our research fellows spend all their time in the laboratory, we asked what some of them did to keep fit when they weren't researching or studying. Here's what we turned up —

  • Rebecca Brown was chief instructor of Clifton Beach Surf Life Saving Club.
  • Robert Lee spends time rock climbing, surfing, and ocean sailing.
  • Hayley Norman is a state league softball player and has been a voluntary coach for Riding for the Disabled.
  • Narelle Tyler plays tennis, walks and gardens.
  • Justin Coombs plays rugby, goes deep-sea diving and rides mountain bikes.
  • Ryan Whitford grew up on a farm but spends time windsurfing in the Gulf off Adelaide.

Region North