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Research at the SABC

Research Groups

Plant Biotechnology Research Group (PBRG)

Head: Mike Jones, Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology

Researchers: A/Prof Mehmet Cakir, Dr Steve Wylie, Dr Li Hua, Dr John Fosu-Nyarko, Dr Leila Eshraghi

PhD students: current - Jo-Anne Tan, Paul Nicol, Sadia Iqbal, Harshini Herath, Vineeta Bilgi, Malathy Rathinasamy, Silvee Rahman, Jaime Ong, Shu Hui Koh, Fareeha Naz, Mirza Rahman, Mirza Abu Naser Nazim ud Dowla, Surendren Selladurai;        new 2014 - Sammer Khot, Golam Dastogeer 

Visiting researchers: Jiani Lui (China), Ai Kawahara (Japan)

Distinguished Collaborators: Prof Marilyn Roosinck (Penn State University, USA), A/Prof Derek Bartlem (Hokkaido University, Japan)

International links: Dr Uma Rao (IARI, New Delhi), Prof John Jones (James Hutton Institute; Institutes in Turkey, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and the USA

Research in the PBRG focuses on molecular biology and control of plant pests and diseases, and crop improvement through marker-assisted selection, soil metagenomics, molecular diagnostics and biosecurity. It is divided into three areas:

  • Plant -pest interactions and their control
  • Plant-virus interactions and soil metagenomics
  • Marker-assisted selection and crop biosecurity

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Nematology and aphid group

Virology Group

Virology Group

1. Plant- pest interactions section 
This section focusses on pests which feed from plant cell contents:

  • The molecular basis of nematode - crop plant interactions
  • The molecular basis of aphid - crop plant interactions

Field work - collecting beet cyst nematodes on farm

For nematodes, the three major nematode pests of crops are studied: root-knot (Meloidogyne spp), cyst (Heterodera, Globodera spp.) and root lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus spp.). Current research makes use of Next Generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, comparative and functional genomics to identify gene targets in the pests, and then to generate transgenic plants which if fed on by the pests will silence target genes and so lead to a resistant response.

A similar approach is followed for aphids, focusing on the green peach aphid (Myzus persicae), with the added benefit that resistance to aphids results reduces both feeding damage and virus transmission and disease.

Honours student looking with phytoplasma infected tomato plant

2. Plant virology and soils section
This section focuses on plant-virus interactions, particularly at the interface between crop and native plants, and on soil metagenomics to understand soil health in relation to crop yield. The link between these two aspects is application of NGS technologies, which we have used to discover more than 50 viruses either new to Australia or to science, and also to identify soil microbiota in relation to soil health.

Honours student looking with phytoplasma infected tomato plant

3. Marker-assisted selection and crop biosecurity
This section focusses on pre-emptive breeding for pest and disease resistance (eg to the Russian Wheat Aphid), and on molecular diagnostics in relation to crop biosecurity.