As the former interim Director of the ANU node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF), it was fantastic to hear that the Australian Government has awarded $60 million towards expanding its national footprint. The funding, through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), will be matched by state governments, university partners and industry, to bring the total investment in the APPF over the next five years to $135 million.
The increased investment will enable the ANU node of the APPF to deepen and expand a range of world-class plant phenotyping services it provides to university researchers, government agencies and industry. CEAT is proud to have played its part in securing this investment through the development of value propositions for a future multi-million-dollar investment in cutting-edge plant phenotyping and controlled-environment growth facilities at ANU.
One of the areas where plant phenotyping tools are crucial is helping to create a step-change in the productivity and climate resilience of broad acre crops such as wheat. Such tools include high-throughput systems to quantify the heat tolerance of leaf metabolic processes (photosynthesis and respiration) that underpin growth and yield of wheat.
Earlier this year the Grains Research and Development Corporation invested $1.9 million in a project led by ANU to improve wheat yield through increases in heat tolerance of leaf carbon exchange. Through September and October, staff members from my lab, CEAT and the APPF worked tirelessly with partners from the University of New England, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia and Intergrain to measure metabolic heat tolerance in hundreds of wheat varieties at several field sites in WA and NSW. The goal of the project is to improve the intrinsic heat tolerance of wheat through identifying genes responsible for traits that enable wheat to maintain high rates of photosynthesis under hot conditions, while also minimising respiratory carbon loss. The project is a fantastic example of how fundamental biological knowledge and technological tools can be used to help industry develop step changes in the climate resilience of cereals.
The need for improvements in crop climate resilience was highlighted this month in the 2023 state of the climate report – the paper is sobering reading. Among other climate trends, 2023 is on track to be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, years on record. A key recommendation of the paper is the need for adaptation-focused efforts to improve climate resilience of crops, with heat and drought tolerance being two of the key areas of focus.
Finally, if you have a business with an agrifood focus that would benefit from unique access to ANU researchers and infrastructure to support your R&D and growth, please get in touch with the CEAT team at [email protected]. We also welcome interest from businesses headquartered outside Australia with an interest in being based at ANU, in our nation’s capital.