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Centre for Rhizobium Studies News and Events

CRS PhD and Honours students awarded scholarships

January 2021

CRS Research Assistants Georgina Stagg and Kit Burns have recently been awarded scholarships to assist with their PhD studies commencing in 2021. Georgina will be investigating 'Genetic determinants of host range in Mesorhizobium ciceri with the pasture legume Biserrula pelecinus' and was awarded the AW Howard Memorial Trust Research Fellowship. Kit's thesis is 'Cross-compatibility and genetic stability of rhizobia to maximise nitrogen fixation in new and existing inoculants' and was awarded the GRDC Research Scholarship. We also have a new Honours student starting with CRS this year: Alireza Agha Amiri, who was awarded the AW Howard Memorial Trust Honours Scholarship to undertake the Honours project 'Activation of nitrogen fixation in root nodule bacteria in the genus Mesorhizobium'. Congratulations Georgina, Kit and Alireza!

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Georgina and Kit hard at work

Book chapter in 'Just Enough Nitrogen'

December 2020

A previous CRS PhD candidate, Aliyu Abdullahi, has a chapter included in a new book 'Just Enough Nitrogen: Perspectives on how to get there for regions with too much and too little nitrogen' recently released by Springer International Publishing. The volume explores the idea of 'just enough nitrogen': sufficient for sustainable food production, but not so much to lead to unmanageable pollution and climate impacts. This multi-dimensional global nitrogen challenge is examined in Just Enough Nitrogen through the contributions of scientists from all over the world, with Aliyu's chapter focussing on the history of rhizobial inoculants used in Nigeria. You can purchase the book here and view the chapter here.

NRSC workshop with Australian inoculant manufacturers

November 2020

The National Rhizobium Steering Committee (NRSC), who met remotely again at the end of October 2020, hosted a much-anticipated virtual workshop with several key Australian inoculant manufacturers on the 16th November 2020. The workshop included rhizobial research presentations from the CRS, Australian Inoculants Research Group (AIRG), South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and University of Adelaide. AIRG provided an incredible virtual laboratory tour of their facility and demonstrated how they conduct their work assessing the validity of commercial strains available to growers. The workshop was concluded by an open discussion between NRSC members and manufacturers regarding many aspects of the inoculant industry and rhizobial science. It was a very successful workshop with another planned for 2021.

CRS field site visit

October 2020

On Tuesday 6th October the CRS group visited key trial sites for the Dryland Legume Pastures System (DLPS) and Nitrogen Fixation Program (NFP) research projects. Dr Ron Yates, Associate Professor in Pasture Agronomy and Rhizobiology, provided a tour through the impressive Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Northam Grains Research Facility with Dr George Mwenda, a previous member of the CRS group who is now working with DPIRD in Northam. Throughout the morning Ron, Senior Research Officer Chris Poole and Research Officer Rob Harrison gave detailed updates on the field trials and demonstrated their progress achieving project outputs. The whole team thoroughly enjoyed getting out in the field and ended the day with lunch at Mundaring Weir Hotel.

For more information on the research grants CRS are currently working on, see the Research Activities page.

   CRS Group  Nodules  Duty of Care site  

Left to right: a) the CRS team at one of the Northam trial sites; b) nodules on Biserrula pelecinus; and c) at the DLPS Duty of Care site in Mokine.

International Legume Inoculant Genebank in GroundCover

July 2020

In 2019 the CRS were successfully awarded a $1.55 million grant 'Preserving rhizobial collections to benefit the Australian grain industry' by GRDC. A key objective of this grant is to catalogue, construct and house a national and international collection of rhizobia (genebank) here at Murdoch University. The genebank has been named the International Legume Inoculant Genebank (ILIG) and currently comprises 16,500 strains stored in 56,443 ampoules. The strains have been collected from 59 countries, representing 103 species of rhizobia isolated from 531 species of legume, with the oldest sample collected in 1954. The Grains Research and Development Corporation's (GRDC) publication 'GroundCover' recently published an comprehensive media article on the ILIG, which can be found here.

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Ampoules containing freeze-dried rhizobia in the ILIG collection

Publication in Grass and Forage Science

June 2020

CRS Research Officer Robert Harrison has recently published an article in Grass and Forage Science looking at the impact of seed storage on subsequent patterns of hard seed breakdown when exposed to field conditions. Experiments examined seed from six different annual legume genotypes that had been either produced the prior year or stored under ambient conditions for 11–22 years. It was found that hard seed in the stored seed of most genotypes was reduced from >90% to <10% within 68 days over autumn, with shallow burial, whereas fresh seed remained >90% hard during the same period. Given this large and consistent impact, it is recommended that studies of the patterns of hard seed breakdown in legumes compare seed stored under consistent and well‐defined conditions.

The full article can be found here.

National Rhizobium Steering Committee meeting

15 May 2020

The National Rhizobium Steering Committee (NRSC), chaired by CRS Director Dr Graham O'Hara with minutes recorded by Professional Officer Helen Shortland-Jones, held its first meeting for 2020 via video conference on the 15th May. The meeting was attended by members from Australian Inoculants Research Group (AIRG) and Dept. of Primary Industries (DPI) NSW, Primary Industries and Regions SA - South Australian Research and Development Institute (PIRSA-SARDI), University of Sydney, University of Adelaide, and the University of New England. It was very productive, with considerable breadth and depth of discussion focussing on how the Committee can best serve and support growers and the inoculant manufacturing industry. The next meeting is scheduled for October/November 2020, however due to current travel restrictions, meetings will continue to be held via video conference for the forseeable future.

GroundCover article highlights CRS field trials

May 2020

In 2018, CRS researchers established field trials at Ardath, Western Australia, as part of the Federal Rural Research and Development for Profit Program 'Dryland Legume Pasture Systems' (DLPS) project. The trials are investigating the impacts of serradella in subsequent cereal crops on improving protein levels, increasing yield, impacts of soil disease and soil nitrogen levels. Robert Harrison, Research Assistant, is managing the field research at this site and was recently interviewed for an article in the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) publication 'GroundCover'.

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Field trial site at 'Biami' farm, Ardath, WA

New CRS cultivar 'Fran2o' launched to the public

9 March 2020

Researchers from the CRS have developed a new cultivar of French serradella 'Fran2o' that was officially launched to the public by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Alannah MacTiernan, recently at the Murdoch University campus. Associate Professor Bradly Nutt created the cultivar during his PhD studies in response to requests from growers for an early season French serradella that was suitable for acid sandy soils. Fran2o is a short season, hard-seeded legume, developed specifically for broad scale agriculture in low to medium rainfall areas, that aims to increase the sustainability of Wheatbelt crop-pasture rotations and lower the carbon footprint of cropping. You can read more about the development of this exciting new cultivar here.

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Professor John Howieson and Assoc. Prof. Bradley Nutt launcing Fran2o with the Minister for Agriculture and Food

New CRS Postdoctoral Fellow

February 2020

The CRS are very pleased to welcome our new Postdoctoral Fellow from Winnipeg, Canada - Dr MacLean Kohlmeier, otherwise known as 'Mac'. Mac moved from a Canadian winter to Perth in the middle of summer and has adjusted to the change in climate incredibly well.  He will conduct research into rhizobia genome sequencing over the next three years under the $1.55 million grant awarded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to CRS in 2019: ‘Preserving Australia’s Rhizobial Collections to Benefit the Australian Grain Industry'.


Dr MacLean (Mac) Kohlmeier - newest member of the CRS research team

CRS featured in N2Africa

December 2019

An overview of recent research conducted by the CRS and Dr George Mwenda has been published in a summary of the ten-year project N2Africa: Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa. This is provided in the N2Africa online magazine under the section Battling to form nodules.

During his PhD at Murdoch University, Dr George Mwenda investigated rhizobial strain competition in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) in Kenya and identified how some introduced strains of rhizobia are capable of displacing large populations of endemic rhizobia already present in the soils. These results are key to the development of the next generation of rhizobial inoculant strains that will be both highly effective at fixing nitrogen and highly competitive against a large background population of rhizobia.

The entire project summary is a fascinating and inspiring read; demonstrating the significant amounts of work invested in assessing how best to assist smallholder farmers in Africa with achieving successful legume yields via biological nitrogen fixation with the right combination of a legume variety and rhizobium strain, whilst incorporating environmental and management factors.

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Dr George Mwenda in the laboratory

Mesorhizobium and Rhizobial Genetics Symposium

3 December 2019

The Centre for Rhizobium Studies hosted a second symposium on Mesorhizobium and rhizobial genetics at Murdoch University in December 2019. The symposium was attended by Professor Clive Ronson (University of Otago, New Zealand), Dr Josh Ramsay and Dr Elena Colombi (Curtin University), Dr Charlie Bond and Dr Georg Fritz (UWA), Dr Graham O’Hara, Dr John Howieson, Dr Jason Terpolilli, Dr Yvette Hill and Dr Emma Steel (CRS), along with several PhD and Honours students. The day saw excellent presentations by students and researchers ranging from atomic-scale crystal structures of rhizobial proteins through to farm-scale impacts of horizontal transfer of symbiosis genes. The students in particular were very happy to share their work together on Mesorhizobium spp. Special thanks to Helen Shortland-Jones for organizing the excellent catering for the event!


Symposium attendees networking after the event

Dr Graham O'Hara interviewed on ABC's Country Hour

26 November 2019

Our wonderful Centre for Rhizobium Studies (CRS) Director Dr Graham O’Hara was recently interviewed on the ABC’s Country Hour discussing the $1.55 million grant awarded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to CRS earlier this year: ‘Preserving Australia’s Rhizobial Collections to Benefit the Australian Grain Industry'.

Listen to Dr O’Hara discuss this innovative project here at 46 minutes, 30 seconds.


Professor Philip Poole visits from Oxford University

November 2019

The CRS were very fortunate to host Sir Walter Murdoch Distinguished Scholar Professor Philip Poole from the Department of Plant Sciences of Oxford University during November 2019. Dr Jason Terpolilli, the CRS Research Director, and Professor Poole worked together in the UK.

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CRS researchers with Professor Philip Poole and Dr George Mwenda in Merredin

Western Australian DLPS Pasture Tour

19-22 August 2019

As part of the Federal Rural Research and Development for Profit Program 'Dryland Legume Pasture Systems' (DLPS) project, a team of South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) representatives and pasture producers from South Australia visited dryland pastures in Western Australia in August 2019 to look at novel pasture options for cropping systems in dry areas. The pasture legume selection and breeding for the DLPS is being conducted by Associate Professor Brad Nutt, with Dr Ron Yates responsible for researching the rhizobiology. The four-day pasture tour took participants to York, Dandaragan, Mingenew and Binnu and was highly successful. Read more about the DLPS project and pasture tour here.

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Some of the participants in the DLPS pasture tour in Western Australia

New project: Preserving Australia's rhizobial collections to benefit the Australian grain industry

July 2019

This exciting project worth $1.55 million is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and will enable the CRS to construct and house an international collection of rhizobia here at Murdoch University. The CRS currently stores approximately 15,300 strains of rhizobia at Murdoch, collected from local, national and international locations. Some of these strains are more than 70 years old, while others are unique and irreplaceable, having been collected from locations that are no longer accessible such as the Middle East and other conflict zones. Two key outputs of this 5-year program are to consolidate and transfer the strains into a purpose-built facility for the preservation of the national rhizobia genebank; and to develop and maintain an online web-access catalogue that contains relevant details of all the rhizobium strains held at Murdoch University. This will be the first online catalogue of its kind in Australia, with the number and diversity of strains housed in this collection making it a critical global resource both commercially and for research purposes.

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Centre for Rhizobium Studies Director Dr Graham O'Hara in the glasshouse

Dr Timothy Haskett awarded prestigious Research Fellowship

June 2019

Congratulations to Dr Timothy Haskett, who was awarded the prestigious Royal Commission for the exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship for 2019. Dr Haskett, who completed his PhD in the Centre for Rhizobium Studies at Murdoch University in 2018, is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the research group of Professor Philip Poole at the University of Oxford. His research on the development of genetic tools to allow for the engineering of complex plant-growth promoting traits into plant-associated beneficial bacteria that naturally occupy the environment surrounding plant roots, is aimed at reducing our reliance on chemical fertiliser applications in agriculture. Read more about Dr Haskett’s proposed work here.


Dr Timothy Haskett

New project: Increasing the effectiveness of nitrogen fixation in pulses

May 2019

The Centre for Rhizobium Studies (CRS) have commenced an exciting project with $1.8 million in funding from Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC): 'Increasing the effectiveness of nitrogen fixation in pulses through improved rhizobial strains in the GRDC Western Region'. This project is investigating ways to improve high value pulse production and increase the adoption of lentil, chickpea and faba beans by producers, through the development of new rhizobial strains that are better adapted to environmental (heat, low rainfall), soil (acidity, texture) and managerial (herbicide application) constraints. Several members of the CRS team are working on this important project, including Dr Ron Yates, Dr Yvette Hill, Dr Emma Steel and Mr Chris Poole. 

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Formation of chickpea (Cicer arietinum) nodules.

New project: Dryland Legume Pasture Systems

August 2018

The Centre for Rhizobium Studies is pleased to announce the commencement of a new project “Dryland Legume Pasture Systems” in July 2018. Funded by the Federal Rural Research and Development for Profit Program , the project is led in WA by CRS and supported by partnerships with DPIRD (WA) and CSIRO. This 5-year project is co-funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI). It fits within the CRS research strategy of “Free N Farming".

CRS will shortly be advertising for staff appointments with skills in pasture legume agronomy and rhizobiology. 

Dr Brad Nutt inspecting vetch (Vicia spp.)

Dr Brad Nutt inspecting vetch (Vicia spp.)
in the target regions for the new Dryland
Pasture Legume Systems project

Publication in Systematic and Applied Microbiology

July 2018

Dr George Mwenda recently published a paper on the genetic diversity and symbiotic effectiveness of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)-nodulating rhizobia isolated from Kenya. Although common bean has been cultivated in Kenya for centuries, the diversity of these organisms remains poorly understood. The study demonstrated that Kenyan soils harbour diverse P. vulgaris-nodulating rhizobia with a wide range of symbiotic N2 fixation efficiencies, some of which formed phylogenetic clusters distinct from known lineages. Of the effective strains, those found to be competitive for nodulation will be candidates for field testing with the aim of developing future inoculants for common bean.

The full article can be found here.

Several of the recovered strains are highly effective at N2 fixation

Several of the recovered strains
are highly effective at N2 fixation

SUNfix Symposium 19

20 June 2018

Dr Graham O’Hara, together with PhD students Talitha Rogers and Luisa Caroline Ferraz Helene (from Embrapa, Brazil), and recent Honours student Emma Bonello participated in the annual SUNFix symposium at the University of Sydney on 29th June. Graham presented on the mobility of Mesorhizobium symbiosis integrative and conjugative elements, and Emma reported her Honours project work in which she characterised the symbiosis ICE and accessory plasmid of the chickpea inoculant strain M. ciceri CC1192. Luisa presented her recent findings on genetic diversity and N-fixation capacity of soybean microsymbionts. Talitha gave an update of her work on the free-living and symbiotic characterisation of Burkholderia sprentiae, the symbiont of the perennial legume Lebeckia ambigua.

An exciting outcome was the joint award of the Alan H. Gibson prize for best student presentation to Talitha and Emma, and the award of Travel Scholarships to Emma, Luisa and Talitha.

Symposium on Mesorhizobium

12 June 2018

Symposium attendees

Symposium attendees

The Centre for Rhizobium studies hosted a symposium on Mesorhizobium and rhizobial genetics at Murdoch University on 12 June 2018. The symposium was attended by Professor Clive Ronson and Dr John Sullivan (University of Otago, New Zealand), Dr Josh Ramsay (Curtin University), Emeritus Professor Michael Dilworth and Dr Jason Terpolilli (CRS). The day saw excellent presentations by students and researchers from all three research groups. The students in particular were very happy to be able to share their work together on Mesorhizobium.

It is anticipated that a follow-up symposium will be held in June 2019.

24th North American Symbiotic Nitrogen fixation Conference

20-23 May 2018

Dr Jason Terpolilli and PhD student Talitha Rogers travelled to Winnipeg (Canada) for the 24th North American symbiotic nitrogen fixation conference. Jason presented on the structure and mobility of Mesorhizobium symbiosis integrative and conjugative elements, summarising recent work in this area at the Centre for Rhizobium Studies.

Talitha presented a poster of her work on the free-living and symbiotic characterisation of Burkholderia sprentiae, the symbiont of the perennial legume Lebeckia ambigua, which is currently being evaluated as a pasture legume for acidic and infertile soils. Talitha was also successful in being awarded a travel scholarship by AW Howard to attend and present at the conference.

Genome alignment of tripartite ICE from biserrula nodulating WSM1271.

Genome alignment of tripartite ICE
from biserrula nodulating WSM1271.

Publication in PLOS Genetics

March 2018

Congratulations to CRS student Timothy Haskett who recently published work from his PhD studies in the prestigious journal PLOS Genetics. Timothy’s paper builds on his earlier work detailing the discovery of novel tripartite integrative and conjugative elements in Mesorhizobium bacteria.

These elements recombine within the host chromosome prior to conjugal transfer to a recipient strain. Timothy’s work here has shown that the sequential induction of three recombination directionality factors leads to the coordinated assembly and transfer of the element. This indicates that there is a preferred recombination pathway for tripartite elements controlled by RdfS, which is a protein that appears to function as a master regulator of element assembly. The work is a collaboration between Murdoch’s CRS, Dr Josh Ramsay (Curtin University) and Professor Philip Poole (University of Oxford).

The full article can be found here. The original paper reporting on the discovery of tripartite elements can be found here.

Network model summarising the various recombination states of tripartite ICEs. Image from Haskett et al. 2018

Network model summarising the various
recombination states of tripartite ICEs.
Image from Haskett et al. 2018

New review published

1 Feb 2018

A new review on nitrogen-fixing rhizobial symbioses has recently been published in Nature Review Microbiology. The work is the product of an on-going collaboration between CRS reseracher Dr Jason Terpolilli and scientists Professor Philip Poole and Dr Vinoy Ramachandran (University of Oxford). Professor Philip Poole is an alumnus of Murdoch University (graduating with his PhD in 1986) and was a Sir Walter Murdoch Adjunct Professor (2014-2017).

CRS PhD student awarded research fellowship

20 Jan 2018

Congratulations to Centre for Rhizobium Studies PhD student Talitha Rogers, who was recently awarded the AW Howard Memorial Trust Research Fellowship for her project on the physiology of root nodule bacteria in the genus Burkholderia. These bacteria form a nitrogen-fixing symbiosis with the perennial legume Lebeckia ambigua, which originates from the Fynbos region of South Africa. This legume is deep rooted and highly tolerant to dry, acidic soils, making it an ideal pasture for the South-West of Western Australia. Talitha’s research, supervised by Jason Terpolilli, Sofie De Meyer and Graham O’Hara, aims to characterise the novel respiratory mechanisms of these bacteria and to define a set of highly effective nitrogen-fixing Burkholderia strains for this legume. This work will contribute toward the development of a robust and stable inoculant for the new pasture systems under development by CRS researchers lead by John Howieson.

Summer sowing field day - 1.30pm - Brookton

28 April 2016

Lower-risk mixed farming in the new millennium; driven by hard seeded pasture legumes. The regenerating legume system at Butcher’s represents the next step change in agricultural production in WA. Come and see why March rains are considered the ignition of the “free N factory”, rather than a false break!



Mailrock farm address: 499 Dale-Kokeby Rd, Brookton

Directions from Brookton: take Corberding rd (this becomes Dale Kokeby rd) for 21km

Directions from Perth or Northam: take York-Williams rd, then Dale Kokeby rd for 5 km

Front entrance will have signage

When? 28/04/16 at 1.30pm

Find out more

Is Lebeckia becoming the Holy Grail for Agriculture?

3 December 2015

PhD student Timothy Haskett was awarded a Farrer Memorial Trust scholarship

9 July 2015

PhD student Timothy Haskett was recently awarded a Farrer Memorial Trust scholarship to present his research at the 19th International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation in Pacific Grove, California in October this year. Tim’s research is primarily focused on the mechanism of horizontal gene transfer in the symbiotic N2-fixing bacteria associated with the pasture legume biserrula (Biserrula pelecinus). In addition to attending and presenting at the Congress, Tim will also be visiting fellow nitrogen fixation and legume researchers at Professor Sharon Long’s laboratory, Stanford University, and will be meeting with collaborators at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) at Walnut Creek.

CRS receives ARC Linkage project

6 July 2015

This project aims to develop nitrogen-fixing legumes adapted to the changing climate. Nitrogen fixation from legumes is worth $3 billion to the Australian agricultural economy, but changing rainfall patterns threaten much of this. One solution is to transition pasture growth to a reliance on perennial plants, which are less affected by unseasonal rain. Lebeckia ambigua is an outstanding perennial legume to begin this change, but its nitrogen fixation is compromised by nodulation failure caused by death of its symbiotic rhizobia. This project intends to improve the survival in acid and infertile soils of the unique rhizobial symbionts the research team has discovered for Lebeckia ambigua in South Africa.

CRS members awarded for research and teaching excellence

10 June 2015

The Staff Awards ceremony showcased some of our very talented and dedicated staff members. Dr Ravi Tiwari received an award for university teaching and citations for outstanding contributions to student learning. Prof John Howieson, Prof Graham O'Hara, Dr. Ravi Tiwari, Dr. Wayne Reeve, Dr. Jason Terpolilli, Dr. Julie Ardley and Dr. Sofie De Meyer received an award for research that has had significant and lasting translational impact and uptake for industry, society or environment.


MINETOPE Field day on Christmas Island

1 June 2015

In May the first MINETOPE field day was organised to show the results of the research to establish an alternative economy on Christmas Island. Professor John Howieson and Mr Neil Ballard welcomed 245 people during the day and showed them around to all the different field sites.


Bringing agriculture to Christmas Island: MINETOPE

7 May 2015

Researchers from Murdoch’s Centre for Rhizobium Studies are working in collaboration with Christmas Island Phosphate and the Commonwealth government to investigate the introduction of agriculture on expired mining leases on Christmas Island, the MINETOPE project.

Find out more

Lebeckia field walk was a great success!

4 April 2015

The Lebeckia field walk organised in collaboration with the South West Catchement Council and Global Pasture consultants was a great success!

Find out more

Lebeckia pic

Lebeckia field walk

30 March 2015

The first Lebeckia field walk is happening in March!

Find out more

Sofie De Meyer

Dr Sofie De Meyer selected for Famelab NSW state heat final!

24 March 2015

Agriculture highly depends on fertilisation to improve crop yield. An alternative to industrial fertilisers, which require fossil fuels for production, is the use of legume plants related to our garden beans, that are able to fix Nitrogen from the air, with the help of soil bacteria. The south-west of Western Australia is a major farming area in which annual rainfall has declined by more than 20% in the last 30 years. Most farming systems in these areas use annual legumes for nitrogen fixation, but these plants are water demanding. With the perspective of increasing effects of climate change and more unpredictable rainfall they are becoming unreliable.

The deep rooted, herbaceous shrub Lebeckia ambigua, which we discovered in the Western Cape of South Africa, does not only grow on poor, acidic, sandy soils with annual rainfall of 150-400mm, but it also produces high quality forage in those conditions.

Because of these qualities, we believe that it is a prime candidate that will help us to support farmers turning the poorest soils into green farmable landscapes. I believe the three great things arise from our system: No artificial fertiliser, more fodder for grazing with less water and less impact on the environment.

When: 24/03/2015
Where: NSW State Heat – Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

+ more info

SWCC - Lebeckia

Lebeckia - a New Perennial Legume

24 November 2014

Watch the YouTube video about the exciting potential of the new perennial legume, Lebeckia. Lebeckia is suited to deep water repellent sands and highly adapted to the the changing climate.

A new trial being run by Global pasture consultants and supported by SWCC examined the impact of lebeckia on soil health and fertility and showed some promising results ...