Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
December 2006 Issue
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$25 million for world-class biotech facility


Two major grants - $15 million from the Federal Government and $10 million from the South Australian Government - have been awarded to help create a new plant research facility aimed at boosting agricultural research and the plant biotech industry.

The National Plant Phenomics Facility, which consists of the Plant Accelerator to be established in Adelaide and the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre in Canberra, will be the first of its kind in the public sector anywhere in the world.

The collaborative national facility will be led by Professor Mark Tester at the University of Adelaide and involves research partners at CSIRO Plant Industry and the Australian National University (ANU), as well as industry groups and Federal and South Australian government departments.

Federal Government funding for the national facility was announced recently by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Julie Bishop MP. The State Government funding, announced by the Minister for Science and Information Economy, the Hon. Karlene Maywald MP, will go towards the establishment of the Plant Accelerator in Adelaide.

"This national facility will be world class in every respect and will provide a competitive edge for Australia's $27 billion annual agriculture export industry," said Professor Tester, Federation Fellow with the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

"The facility will allow researchers to respond more quickly to market needs; it will increase the quality of plant science research and accelerate the transfer of research advances to the benefit of the agricultural industry."

"Particularly exciting is the potential for making key discoveries relating to salinity and drought tolerance, factors which significantly limit crop production worldwide."

The Plant Accelerator, which will be located at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus, will use robotic techniques to take 3D images of plants, recording their size, colour and temperature, providing an insight into overall plant health. The Plant Accelerator will consist of a series of hi-tech greenhouses and laboratories that can accommodate 160,000 plants a year.

"This high-throughput facility will be available for all Australian plant scientists and will greatly assist our researchers in 'phenotyping' plants - that is, identifying the role of each plant gene in the function of the whole plant," said Professor Geoff Fincher, Director of the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus.

The High Resolution Phenomics Technology Centre will be located in Canberra at CSIRO Plant Industry and ANU. This facility will adapt and apply the next generation of research tools to probe plant function and performance, under controlled conditions and in the field. Recent advances in robotics, imaging and computing will be used in applying these technologies.

"Phenomics has the potential to revolutionise the way that researchers tackle key issues in plant and agricultural biology," said Dr Jeremy Burdon, Chief of CSIRO Plant Industry.

"Research at the facility will aid the development of new crops for improved human health or for novel uses such as pharmaceuticals, and also improve sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation."

The combined $25 million in government funding will go towards the total of almost $50 million needed to establish the national facility, with the remainder of the funding expected to come from partner institutions, industry and other government sources.

The University of Adelaide's Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McWha, said the University's world-famous Waite Campus continued to reap rewards for industry and the community.

"The $25 million in funding from Federal and South Australian governments is a fantastic result for the University of Adelaide, which is leading the research effort both here in Adelaide and in Canberra under the banner of the national facility," Professor McWha said.

"It is a prime example of how our University researchers are responsive to the needs of industry and the scientific and general communities, and it will further enhance the Waite's reputation as a jewel in the world's agricultural research crown."

Professor Fincher said that of the $25 million in government funding announced, $20 million would come directly into the Waite.

"That is a major achievement for any Australian university campus. It is further proof of the national and international significance of our research, which plays such an important role in the food and drink we consume, in our economy, and in our everyday lives," he said.

Construction of the National Plant Phenomics Facility is expected to begin in 2007, with all facilities in Adelaide and Canberra completed by 2009.

Story by David Ellis

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A possible design of the new Plant Accelerator at the University’s Waite Campus
Image courtesy of Capital Architecture Pty Ltd

A possible design of the new Plant Accelerator at the University's Waite Campus
Image courtesy of Capital Architecture Pty Ltd

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Right: Professor Mark Tester
Photo by Chris Tonkin

Right: Professor Mark Tester
Photo by Chris Tonkin

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