Editorial by John Lovett: Promising Blue Skies

John Lovett

PLANT functional genomics is the exciting and innovative science of understanding "which genes do what" in order to generate knowledge that can be used to breed better crops. Although relatively new, this science is already enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of Australia's wheat and barley breeding programs.

In light of the investment opportunities available, this month the GRDC and the Australian Research Council (ARC) announced an agreement to jointly establish the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. This centre will receive up to $20 million over five years (half from the GRDC) to establish Australian expertise in this vital area of grains research.

When investing in 'blue skies' research, such as plant functional genomics, the ultimate outcome of the research effort is uncertain. Such investments are usually expensive, high risk and require extensive expertise in managing and accessing intellectual property. However, while the risks are high, the potential benefits are significant, and it is only through such research that we can make the 'quantum leaps' necessary to keep the Australian grains industry profitable and sustainable.

Strategic partnerships, such as the one with the ARC, help the GRDC to manage the risks - and realise the benefits - of research y providing the opportunity to access additional capital, intellectual property and commercial acumen. At the same time, of course, any commercial revenue generated by the research must be shared with all of the research partners involved. Indeed, generating commercial revenue is a condition of some organisations (both private and public) in agreeing to enter into a research partnership.

In addition, partnerships with private sector organisations can sometimes be the most effective means of getting new technology out to growers. Ensuring grower access to research outputs, such as a new grain fumigant or grain variety, would be impossible without partnerships with the private sector, as these partnerships provide access to capital, distribution networks and commercial expertise beyond the resources of the GRDC.

No research-based organisation - public or private, large or small- can 'go it alone' if it is to be successful. The role of the GRDC is to initiate and foster research partnerships that help ensure that the research needs of the Australian grains industry are being met as effectively as possible. In 1990, the GRDC was established as a partnership between graingrowers and the Commonwealth Government, representing the Australian cOlllIlUlnity. Our partnership with the ARC in establishing the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics exploits an investment opportunity vital to the future of the Australian grains industry. It is one of many partnerships to come.