Australian university talks ag research on World Food Day

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University of Queensland in Australia has more than 200 research scientists within the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation focused on creating a more sustainable Australia and contributing to global food security. They collaborate on research with scientists across UQ's other schools and institutions and with industry.

The university is promoting itself as a leading international institution to help solve the need for growing more food to feed a population of 9 billion by 2030. The timing of its distribution about projects is in conjunction with World Food Day, Oct. 16, which is organized by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and is celebrated by more than 150 countries.

The UQ public relations staff provided a sampling of the agricultural research taking place under UQ scientists’ leadership. A selection of research being undertaken at UQ that is “leading the world towards a better food security future” includes:

Developing new high-yield and disease-resistant crops

  • Boosting Sorghum calories to minimize agricultural expansion:
    In large parts of Africa sorghum is a staple food crop and its vital role in food security will continue to expand because of its drought tolerance and ability to grow on marginal land. However, sorghum has low digestibility compared to other cereals. Two synergistic UQ projects are looking at how to increase the caloric value of sorghum using reverse genetics approaches to identify genes for grain quality and digestibility. Developing selection tools for producing enhanced next generation sorghums is important for regions such as Africa where malnutrition is rife and will allow an increase in production without the expansion of agricultural land. 
  • Nexgen plant innovation provides game shift in virus resistance (cotton, sugarcane, wheat, soybean, maize, rice, potato):
    Nexgen, a cutting edge anti-viral technology for plants developed at UQ, is on the path to commercialization. The Nexgen technology includes transgenic and cisgenic breeding methods that confer virus resistance into existing commercial varieties of crops in less than 12 months. The resistance is expected to work for hybrid seed production linking in with current breeding programs. The research team has shown the feasibility of the approach for a range of high-value crops such as sugarcane, soybean, maize, rice, potato, wheat and cotton for resistance to Potyviruses, Tospoviruses, Cucumoviruses and Geminiviruses using the Nexgen technology. 
  • Improving rice grain quality and nutrition:
    Professor Melissa Fitzgerald pioneered research on characterizing the genetic diversity and genetic controls of rice quality and nutrition traits, leading to the development of new methods and molecular markers for breeding programs. She also set new standards in high-quality, efficient grain quality services provided to breeding programs around the world and established the International Network for Quality Rice which aims to bring new science to traits of quality, standardize the measurement of quality traits, and identify new traits of physical, sensory, and nutritional quality.
  • Australian wild rice characterization:
    Professor Robert Henry's specialty research area is the study of agricultural crops using molecular tools. He is particularly interested in Australian flora and plants of economic and social importance and has led the way in research into genome sequencing to capture novel genetic resources for the diversification of food crops to deliver improved food products.

Overcoming soil nutritional constraints to crop productivity

  • Improving the nutrition of poor soils in Australia and developing countries:
    Professor Neal Menzies is involved in agricultural production systems research primarily directed at overcoming nutritional constraints to productivity both in Australia and in the developing world. He is involved in Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded research projects in India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. Projects have included nutritional studies on nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and copper.
  • Making acid soils fertile:
    Dr Peter Kopittke is hoping to solve a mystery that affects 50 per cent of Australia's agricultural land (40 per cent of land worldwide) and costs $1.5 billion per year in foregone production. He received a $702,829 fellowship this year to investigate why aluminum and other trace metals are toxic to plants growing in acidic soils. Identification of the mechanisms of aluminum toxicity will provide the necessary ‘building-blocks' required to begin developing aluminum-tolerant cultivars and will provide the key to improving crop yields in degraded soils.

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