Twin role speeds path of research into improving varieties

Grain Central, April 10, 2024

AN INDUSTRY Fellowship at The University of Queensland combined with working as a cereal breeder at InterGrain have helped Hannah Robinson speed up the translation of research into commercial breeding to develop improved varieties.

Dr Hannah Robinson works as a cereal breeder with InterGrain, and also in research.

At the end of her two-year secondment working with UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation in February, Dr Robinson has transitioned to an adjunct research position, and hopes the joint role will serve as a model for others to help shape the next generation of plant breeders.

“We always talk about the translation to industry, but through this fellowship, I think we are turbo-charging it,” Dr Robinson said.

“By connecting students to the industry and giving them access to data sets, we enable them to gain a clearer understanding of plant breeding.”

Dr Robinson said students analyse the data and work on solutions that suit the breeding program, allowing research outcomes and yield gains to be translated quickly and efficiently.

“You need both the ideas and the practical approach to bring the two together.

“That’s where you find the impact to enable us to produce more with fewer inputs, which is what we need to achieve.”

Over her two years in the joint role, Dr Robinson worked with 12 Masters students and PhD candidates on various projects.

She said the advantages of the collaboration were evident across many projects, including her work with a masters student on the disease stripe rust, a pathogen that causes large losses in wheat crops and continues to evolve and break down resistance in wheat lines.

“Fortunately, InterGrain had ten years of data from different artificially inoculated nurseries for stripe rust on the east coast.

“We were able to analyse the data and pull out the key regions of the genome that are influencing its resistance across pathotypes and environments.

“That means we can create a more robust and durable disease resistance and provide the information breeders need to select for those areas of the genome in their breeding program.”

Professor Lee Hickey and Dr Hannah Robinson in the QAAFI greenhouse. Photo: QAAFI

The second example comes from an Australian Reseach Council Linkage project in barley-root architecture.

“We wanted to take the UAV and multi-spectral camera technology that breeders already use and see if we can design algorithms that use that information to predict root systems underground.

“The aim is to allow breeders to select for the optimum root system for their targeted growing environment and combine it with above-ground traits to develop more environmentally adaptive barley varieties.

“It’s about having access to the breeding-program data, understanding and analysing it, and then collaborating with breeders to develop improved crop varieties.

“The biggest outcome here is that the close working relationship between academia and commercial breeding results in the rapid translation of practical research outcomes in Australian agriculture.”

This successful Industry Fellowship model will next be adopted by the ARC’s Training Centre in Predictive Breeding led by Professor Lee Hickey, which will develop cutting-edge technologies and deliver world-class training for plant and animal-breeding industries in Australia.”

The project is funded by the ARC, InterGrain, UQ, and the Qld Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Source: QAAFI


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