22 September 2019

Smart plants to make good and bad seasons a thing of the past

| Michael Weaver
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Barry Pogson

Barry Pogson from the ANU Research School of Biology. Photos: Lannon Harley, ANU.

The ANU has been awarded two Australian Laureate Fellowships from the Australian Research Council to improve the ability of our food crops to adapt to good and bad seasons, and learn about sustainable water use from Indigenous Australians.

The two ANU researchers, Professor Barry Pogson and Professor Quentin Grafton, have created separate projects that will help define the future of agriculture and food security in Australia.

Professor Pogson from the ANU Research School of Biology has been awarded $2.9 million to create a project to produce higher-yielding, more resilient wheat and rice, which provide much of humanity’s dietary energy and protein.

He said the project will create ‘smart plants’ that more easily adapt to good and bad seasons.

“We know drought can drastically reduce yield for our crops and this threatens food security across the globe,” Professor Pogson said.

“These smart plants will be able to switch on a resilience gene that will help chart the future of Australian agriculture.

“Australia, indeed the world, faces an unprecedented set of challenges, many of which will impact food security. My research aims to contribute to providing some solutions. But given the scale and breadth of challenges facing our rural communities, we need a nationwide, integrated, large-scale mission to produce better crops and communities.”

Professor Quentin Grafton, who heads up the Centre for Water Economics and Policy at the ANU’s Crawford School, has been awarded $3.3 million for his sustainable water use project which aims to improve our understanding of the relationship Indigenous Australians have with water.

He said a sustainable Australia could only be achieved by recognising water’s economic, environmental and socio-cultural value, including the values of First Peoples.

“Water is life: for people, our communities, our environment, our economy and our nation,” Professor Grafton said.

“So properly valuing water, and reallocating it when necessary, is crucial to avoid catastrophic costs and recovery after droughts, and to ensure a sustainable water future for all Australians.

“This project aims to rethink how water is valued, used and governed in Australia.”

Professor Quentin Grafton, from the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.

Acting ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Mike Calford congratulated Professors Pogson and Grafton on their success.

“ARC Laureates are extremely competitive and prestigious. They recognise Australian researchers at the pinnacle of their game, as well as research of the highest quality and impact,” he said.

“Professors Pogson and Grafton are no exception. Their research makes a major difference to Australia and Australians every day.

“With these projects, they will help drive a deeper understanding and better outcomes for two major challenges facing our nation and the world – crop resilience and water use.

“On behalf of the entire ANU community and Australians everywhere who will benefit from their work, I congratulate both of them and look forward to seeing what their vital work delivers,” Professor Calford said.

The ANU has been awarded 26 Australian Laureate Fellowships since the scheme began in 2009.

Original Article published by Michael Weaver on The RiotACT.

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