Grain experts

Murdoch University is a recognised leader in agricultural research and development, with its projects increasingly finding their way onto the world stage. Its unique national and international grains industry research strengths focus on cereal pre-breeding, diagnostics, genomics, transgenics, bioinformatics and biosecurity.

Murdoch hosts the largest team of plant nematologists in Australia, the only nematology group focusing at the molecular level and who also specialise in phytoplasmas and plant bacteria. Collaborative projects located in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Europe encompass disease and pest resistance, soil fertility improvement, crop diversification, abiotic stress and biological nitrogen fixation.

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Professor Mike Jones

Professor Mike Jones

Crop biotechnology, transgenic plants, pest and disease resistance (viruses, nematodes)

Professor Mike Jones is an internationally recognised expert in agricultural biotechnology, the Foundation Director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC), and Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology at Murdoch University. He has developed a series of molecular diagnostic tests for grain farmers that are used to detect Cucumber mosaic virus and anthracnose in lupins. These tests have been made available as commercial tests for over 10 years. He has also pioneered the use of marker-assisted selection for wheat and barley in Western Australia. His current research focuses on molecular plant pathology and transgenic plants – on studying plant viruses at the interface of grain crops and native plants, and on the control of plant parasitic nematodes using synthetic resistance genes. Both of these research areas involve Next Generation genomic sequencing.

This work includes collaboration with researchers locally at the Department of Agriculture WA (DAFWA), and in a series of international projects, such as the EU Cost Action program on ‘Nematode Genomics’, and collaborative projects with industry. He is co-founder of the Murdoch University spin-out company, NemGenix.
Professor John Howieson

Professor John Howieson

Sustainable agriculture, nitrogen fixation in legumes

Professor John Howieson is an internationally recognised expert in sustainable agriculture, specialising in the nitrogen fixation of legume crops. His research interests include the selection and development of root nodule bacteria as commercial inoculants for agricultural legumes, and the selection of annual and perennial legumes for sustainable agriculture. He has led the discovery program for several new pasture and forage legumes in Australian agriculture.

Professor Howieson was the Foundation Director of the Centre for Rhizobium Studies at Murdoch University and currently he is on the steering committee for the project “N2Africa: Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa”. This US$20 million program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that sees legume science as a key to increasing global food security and Murdoch University as playing a vital and key role in delivering that security.

Professor Howieson and team are also involved in two other ACIAR-funded projects in Africa, ECCAL –Eastern Cape Arable Lands and SIMLESA –Sustainable Implementation of Legumes in Maize Cropping Systems, led through the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, CIMMYT, with a node at Murdoch.
Professor YongLin Ren

Professor YongLin Ren

Grains storage technology

Professor YongLin Ren is a Principal Research Scientist at the Stored Grain Research Laboratory in the School of Biological Science and Biotechnology. A/Professor Ren is an internationally recognised scientist who has led research teams in the development of management and commercialisation strategies for grain pest technology and quality control. He has a strong track record in initiating a wide range of research projects and delivering fundamental knowledge upon which management strategies can be based. His research has been funded by a wide range of sources, particularly within the grain industries and his work helps maintain the Australian grain industry as a market leader by providing sound, cost-effective and safe storage technology.

A/Professor Ren provides holistic solutions to industry issues by interacting across disciplines, such as linking grain storage with insect pests, fumigant/cereal chemistry, aeration, grain drying, methyl bromide alternatives for timber/soil/fruit fumigation, pesticide residue and quarantine regulations and legislation at the national and international level. A/Professor Ren is a current member of International Controlled Atmosphere and Fumigation (CAF) Permanent Committee and the Australian representative of Quads Scientific Collaboration Working Group.
Associate Professor Rob Trengove

Associate Professor Rob Trengove

Separation science and metabolomics

Associate Professor Rob Trengove is the Director of the Separation Science and Metabolomics Laboratory and the node leader for the Murdoch Node of Metabolomics Australia. A/Prof Trengove has pioneered the development of MS-based ‘omics techniques for more than 20 years, collaborating with Australian and International researchers and industry. He currently leads a team of more than 15 researchers working on a diverse range of topics including microalgae lipidomics, fungal and bacterial metabolomics.

The Separation Science and Metabolomics Laboratory, in partnership with the Cooperative Bulk Handling Group, has developed ResChek, a high-integrity, multi-residue platform for the detection of pesticides in grain. ResChek is currently the only multi-pesticide residue platform of its kind in Australia for the routine detection of pesticide residue. It uses cutting-edge technologies to detect pesticide residues at high levels of stringency to ensure West Australian grain is compliant with global maximum residue limits and is safe for consumption or export. It is capable of detecting pesticide residues in 6 different grain types, namely: wheat, oats, barley, lupins, canola and peas.
Professor Rudi Appels

Professor Rudi Appels

Gene discovery and genetic modification

Professor Rudi Appels has had a long career in CSIRO and Murdoch that has spanned research on chromosome structure and function in avian red blood cells, Drosophila, subclover, barley and wheat. Early successes included the first detailed analysis of Drosophila heterochromatin and the identification of ribosomal DNA as a meiotic pairing site between the X and Y chromosomes.

He pioneered the DNA sequence level characterisation of heterochromatic and ribosomal DNA, a disease resistance and a seed storage protein locus as well as detailed evolutionary analyses of repetitive gene (5S in rRNA) in wheat and its relatives. As a research leader in CSIRO his group discovered major factors underpinning the molecular genetics and cereal chemistry of wheat flour quality attributes at the level of new proteins as well as the details of wheat starch biosynthesis. This work included the analysis of results from large-scale sequencing of genes expressed in developing endosperm tissue as well as compiling molecular genetic/QTL analyses in wheat and barley.

As a co-chair of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) and coauthor of a paper in Science reporting the first large-scale assembly of chromosome 3B of wheat, his current work focuses on large-scale sequence assembly of the genomes of individual wheat chromosomes and associating functional attributes to regions of the genome. Some of the main functional attributes of interest are defining the genetic factors defining target quality attributes of the grain and agronomic traits such as water deficit tolerance.
Professor Matthew Bellgard

Professor Matthew Bellgard

Comparative genomics, high performance computing

Professor Matthew Bellgard is Chair in Bioinformatics at Murdoch University and the Director of the WA State Government Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Comparative Genomics. His scientific work has resulted in developments in the areas of pairwise sequence alignment and artificial intelligence, bacterial bioinformatics, whole genome analysis and annotation, crop plant research and advances in the development of web-based integrated systems utilising high performance computing.

Professor Bellgard’s international experience includes a placement at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg, Germany) and a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Genetics (Mishima, Japan). Professor Bellgard is the Convenor of the Australian Bioinformatics Facility (ABF), which is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. As Convenor of the ABF, Professor Bellgard’s role is to provide advice, leadership, integration and coordination of bioinformatics activities to nationally support the Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics biomolecular platforms. Professor Bellgard also directs the iVEC Informatics Facility based at Murdoch University which houses a 9,600 core, 500 terabyte HP POD Supercomputer ranked # 87th in the world.
Professor Richard Bell

Professor Richard Bell

Soil science, crop nutrition and land management

Professor Bell is is a Professor in the Murdoch School of Environmental Science and is internationally recognised for his research on sustainable land management, with a particular interest in crop nutrition. In the grains industry, he has focussed on soil and land management (recovery from salinity after deep drainage, nutrient losses to surface water), soil science (soil-nutrient interactions, soil testing) and crop nutrition (fertilisers, plant analysis, micronutrient requirements).

Currently he leads two GRDC projects on crop nutrition: UMU00030 Better fertiliser decisions for crops; UMU00035 Improving profit from fertiliser through knowledge-based tools that account for temporal and spatial soil nutrient supply. Revised soil test critical concentrations are being derived, estimates of nutrient loss from grain cropping are being quantified and potassium requirements of crops determined. He collaborates with DAFWA, CSIRO and other universities in research for the grains industry.

Professor Bell has active international research programmes on crop nutrition and soil management in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, funded mostly by ACIAR. The work in Bangladesh is developing a form of conservation agriculture for small holder grain farmers.
Robert Trengove

Professor Cheng Dao Li

Molecular Genetics and Barley Breeding

Professor Li is an expert in molecular genetics and barley breeding. His research focuses on improving barley breeding efficiency by integration of genomics breeding, molecular marker assisted selection, doubled haploid, mutation and conventional breeding.

He is one of the breeders for Baudin, Vlamingh, Hamelin, Roe, Hannan, Lockyer and Litmus.

He is also experienced in cereal genomics, functional geneomics and comparative genomics; cereal molecular genetics; crop breeding technologies; cereal abiotic stress tolerances to acid soils, drought, salinity, heat and waterlogging; barley malting quality; plant phenology.

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