Centre for Rhizobium Studies - image

Research activities

Research activities at the CRS are focused on understanding the basic biology of rhizobia-legume symbioses and how best to apply these associations in the field to improve the productivity and sustainability of agriculture.

Currently, research at the CRS is focussed on the following three nationally-funded research projects:

Dryland Legume Pasture Systems (DLPS)

Boosting profit and reducing risk on mixed farms in low and medium rainfall areas with newly discovered legume pastures enabled by innovative management methods – Western Region (Dryland Legume Pasture Systems). GRDC UMU1805-001RMX

  • Growers have shifted their focus from livestock to crops over the last 30 years, however continuously cropped paddocks are not sustainable and come with high risk, especially in dry areas where wheat cultivation dominates. Intensive cropping is susceptible to herbicide resistant weeds, requires large nitrogen fertiliser inputs, and there are significant financial implications when yields are restricted by frost or dry conditions.
  • A pilot project in the medium rainfall zones of WA and southern NSW has demonstrated how novel pasture legumes improve livestock production through enhanced growth and reproduction, and earlier access to markets, while dramatically reducing fertiliser and herbicide inputs for following crops.
  • This project will discover resilient low-cost pasture legumes with appropriate management packages and promote their adoption in over 500,000 hectares in the low and medium rainfall areas of Western Australia.
  • There are five integrated programs within this collaborative project: 1) novel pasture legumes suited to farming systems in dry areas; 2) quantifying benefits of novel legume pastures to crop production systems; 3) quantifying benefits of novel legume pastures to livestock production systems; 4) whole farm economics and modelling of legume pastures to aid decision making and evaluation; and 5) project coordination, extension and evaluation.

Trigonella trials.jpg

Assessment of seed production and pollinator activity in Trigonella (Trigonella balansae) (background) and shield clover (Trifolium clypeatum) (foreground)

Nitrogen Fixation Program (NFP)

Increasing the effectiveness of nitrogen fixation in pulses through improved rhizobial strains in the GRDC Western region. GRDC UMU1901-002 RTX

  • The use of high value pulses such as lentil, chickpea and faba bean in cropping rotations in southern Australia is currently limited by a combination of poor rhizobial strain adaptation to major soil constraints (including acidity, texture and water holding capacity), environmental constraints (heat, low rainfall) and managerial issues (e.g. herbicide use).
  • These stressors are known to inhibit survival and/or competitiveness of current rhizobial strains and may contribute to increased pressure on strain stability (i.e. increased rates of genetic transfer) over time. Under this project, new, better-adapted rhizobial strains will be developed to improve current high value pulse production, increase the area of adaptation and increase the adoption of lentil, chickpea and faba beans by growers.
  • These strains will be tested nationally across major agro-ecological zones where their impact on pulse grain yield as well as benefits to subsequent crops in the rotation are quantified. Upon completion of this project growers will have access to commercially available, improved rhizobial strains for lentil, chickpea and faba bean, plus best management practices developed for optimising nodulation and nitrogen (N) fixation.

Chickpea nodule.JPG

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) root system with nodules

International Legume Inoculant Genebank (ILIG)

Preserving Australia's rhizobial collections to benefit the Australian grain industry. GRDC UMU1810-001RTX/9176921

  • The rhizobia strains held in various Genebank collections across Australia have been the source for all inoculants that continue to provide Australian agriculture with an estimated $4 billion worth of nitrogen fixed by legumes annually.
  • The collections have been developed to support research efforts in state agencies, Universities and the CSIRO since the 1950s, with strains in these collections routinely distributed nationally and internationally in support of legume development programs.
  • These rhizobia collections are an irreplaceable resource because it is no longer possible to source much of the material they contain due to political instability in some parts of the world, international restrictions on the collection and importation of biological materials, and more recently, Covid-19 travel restrictions.
  • This project aims to preserve Australia’s rhizobia collections through the consolidation of the national rhizobium Genebank at Murdoch University, known as the International Legume Inoculant Genebank (ILIG). This will enable more efficient, safe long-term storage and maintenance of the national rhizobia germplasm. The ILIG is also incorporating development of a linked online rhizobial catalogue that will allow stakeholders to access strains and information to benefit research and the inoculum industry.
  • Development of molecular approaches, based on complete genome sequencing of all commercial inoculant strains, for rapid molecular typing for QA/QC, identification of nodule occupants, and in situ assessment of soil populations are also a major component of this important project.

Ampoules 2.jpg

Ampoules containing freeze-dried rhizobia

Mining to Plant Enterprise (MINTOPE) on Christmas Island

  • Mining to Plant Enterprises (MINTOPE) was a tri-partisan research project conducted between 2012-2019 to determine the feasibility of transitioning mined land to agricultural land on Christmas Island.
  • Phosphate mining has occurred on Christmas Island (CI) for over 100 years, with ex-mined land within the National Park slowly rehabilitated back to forest via a range of approaches.
  • MINTOPE’s core objective was to establish the scientific basis to facilitate agricultural production on areas disrupted by mining. This was the first time a modern agronomic research activity had taken place on the Island.
  • Suitable techniques were developed for the physical transformation of this land, that facilitated broad acre mechanized cropping, plant cultivation, microbial productivity, soil enrichment through waste recovery, and value-adding activities for the community such as distillation, fermentation and pelletisation for animal feed.
  • MINTOPE concluded in September 2019 with numerous successful outcomes. Click on the hyperlinks below for the final report, Ministerial roundtable presentation and video footage of the Christmas Island community open days.

MINTOPE Final Report 2019

MINTOPE Ministerial Roundtable Presentation 2020

MINTOPE Community Day Video 2015

MINTOPE Seed Manufacturing and Community Day Video 2019

MINTOPE image.jpg

Harvesting the millet cereal crop on Christmas Island in 2016.