November Director’s message

November was an important month for space enthusiasts, with the NASA Artemis 1 moon rocket being launched into Earth orbit, following a few months delay. The Artemis 1 mission will test a rocket and capsule system that is designed to take astronauts to the Moon for the first time in 50 years. The November timing of the Artemis launch coincided with the announcement of $35 million funding over seven years for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plants for Space. If humans are to survive for long periods on the Moon or beyond, we need to develop new ways of producing food, processing waste and conserving energy. Led by Professor Matt Gilliham at the University of Adelaide, the Centre of Excellence, aims to “create on-demand, zero-waste, high efficiency plants and plant products that address grand challenges in sustainability for Space and on Earth”.  By developing solutions to living in Space – solutions that increase our ability to grow food using less resources and producing less waste – giant steps can be made towards creating more sustainable food systems on Earth. All goals that align with CEAT’s mission. 

One of the partners in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plants for Space is the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) – an NCRIS-funded capability that provides open access to leading edge plant phenomics research infrastructure, technology and services. The Centre of Excellence is a great example of inter-disciplinary research that leverages Australia’s world-leading expertise in fundamental research to create outputs and outcomes of relevance not just to future astronauts, but also those living on Earth. The ANU node of the APPF, for which I am also the Director, looks forward to supporting the Centre of Excellence through access to our high-precision controlled environment growth rooms and tools that enable the growth, chemical composition and health of plants to be continuously monitored using multispectral imaging technologies.

Like those involved in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plants for Space, researchers who are part of the ANU Institute for Space (InSpace) are working on ways to use their fundamental knowledge to develop solutions needed for life in Space. One example is Dr Caitlin Byrt – a plant scientist who works on membrane proteins in plants and is the founder of a start-up called Membrane Transporter Engineers (MTE), a member of the CEAT Innovation Hub. Caitlin and her team are using their knowledge of plant aquaporins – proteins that facilitate transport of water, salts, nutrients and gases across membranes of plant cells – to create novel filtration systems capable of selectively extracting different types of waste from recycled water. An example is the selective removal of nutrients (from waste streams) that can then be used to grow plants in Space.  Another is using knowledge of aquaporins to improve the efficiency of water use by plants, and in doing so, reduce the amount of water needed to be taken up in rockets such as Artemis. 

If you would like to learn more about why MTE and several other start-ups and small medium enterprises love being based in the CEAT Innovation Hub, watch our short video that outlines the unique benefits of being co-located with ANU’s world-class researchers, and state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment.

Also, CEAT is looking to appoint experienced and senior team players with established networks who can help us build engagement between the ANU, industry and government, and to help the University translate research to impact. We see this as an unique opportunity for professionals with experience in industry and/or government to apply their knowledge and experience to innovative and transformative projects that solve real world problems. The role is based on campus at ANU, with flexibility to work from anywhere. If this has piqued your interest, please get in touch ([email protected]) with a two-page letter detailing your speciality and how you’d add value. We’d love to talk with you about the range of ways in which we could work together. 

We held our last CEAT Governance Committee meeting for 2022 in November.  A key aspect of CEAT’s success in linking researchers with industry has been having a Governance Committee that combines key stakeholders from across the ANU (College of Science, College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics, Research Initiatives and Infrastructure) with inputs from CSIRO (Agriculture and Food, Data 61) and CICADA Innovations.  The Chair of the Governance Committee, Victoria Taylor, is a highly experienced professional with extensive experience in agri-food policy, representation and governance. Drawing on her experience at Hort Innovation, Rocket Seeder Ltd, WaterNSW and the Rice Marketing Board NSW, Vic has been instrumental in shaping CEAT’s investments that support increased links between researchers and industry in the agri-food domain.  

Finally, we were pleased to welcome a delegation of Latin American ambassadors to CEAT this week to showcase ANU capabilities and research interests. Thank you to the delegates for making time to visit us, and to the ANU researchers, staff and students who presented.

Best wishes. And make sure you read our CEAT newsletter!

Thank you.

Owen Atkin, Director, CEAT

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