Our group studies the genetic basis of adaptation in natural plant populations, spanning model organisms, foundation species and emerging crops. We develop and use Genomic and Phenomic tools for association studies in controlled climate chambers and on the landscape. Population genomics is used to map adaptive alleles and genetic structure. Phenomics is used to capture growth, development, and yield traits throughout the growing season. These studies connect genotype to phenotype and environment with the aim to better manage lands and regenerate life supporting services. Live and work in Canberra!
Plant Energy Biology (Centre of Excellence)
Improving the efficiency of plant solar energy capture, use and yield, is a possible solution to the increasing demand on finite land, water, and nutrient resources. Increasing, environmental challenges adversely affect growth and further perturb plant energy balance, biomass and reproduction. We take a novel approach to improve sustainable yield by optimizing the overall energy efficiency of metabolism, transport, growth and plant development. We aim to discover networks of gene variants, signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that regulate energetic processes under limiting and fluctuating conditions. This approach could provide a basis for sustainable productivity of crops and future-proof plants in changing climates.
Genetics of climate adaptation in plants
A major interest of the lab is the genetic basis of adaptation to regional climates with altered growing seasons. Quantitative and population genetic approaches in Arabidopsis, Brachypodium, Pelargonium, and Eucalyptus are being used to genetically dissect adaptive traits. What genes and what alleles explain differential survival of seedlings and reproductive success under typical conditions experienced in the field? Are these new variants or new combinations of existing polymorphisms? Advanced Genomic and Phenomic approaches bring unprecedented power and speed to this work.
Genomic and Phenomic approaches to natural variation
A parallel focus is on the development of methods to enable comprehensive studies. Tools such as Genotyping By Sequencing and Whole Genome Shotgun are being used for population structure and haplotype analysis. Genome Wide Association Mapping and Landscape Genomic scans associate variation with phenotypes and environments where accessions were collected. High Throughput Phenotyping throughout development under dynamic conditions captures high dimensional targeted and anonymous traits for dissection via association mapping.
Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture
Intensifying sustainable agricultural production is critical to global food and environment security. Research in Plant Energy Biology aims to improve yield under limiting environmental conditions while building the natural resource base. Rapid selection and breeding in new species can be achieved through genomic association and selection. To this end, thousands of accessions from model, crop, and foundation plant species (eg Eucalypts) are being sequenced to identify deep genomic diversity and functional alleles associated with growth, reproduction, and environmental adaptation. Several basic research questions about adaptation are being addressed to guide landscape conservation and restoration. How are populations shaped by their local environment? What traits are under selection? What are the genetic loci underlying these traits? Are alleles at these loci filtered by environmental gradients on the landscape over and above background genomic differentiation?
From molecular systems to ecosystems: regenerating biodiversity and biomass
Cellular responses are the integration of genetic and environmental inputs that through development result in altered organismal phenotypes of the adult plant. Whole plant structure and physiology affects the species, community makeup through higher order inter-specific interactions. The resulting landscape effects, in turn have outputs measured as ecosystems services including biomass as bioenergy, habitat for biodiversity, and water, carbon, and nitrogen sequestration, that input again on molecular cellular signaling.