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September 2011 Issue
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Plant cell walls play key role

 Plant Science

Improved nutrition for billions of people around the world and the development of clean, green biofuels are two key aims of a major new research centre at the University of Adelaide.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls is a $32 million biotechnology centre that looks at the fundamental role of cell walls (biomass) in plants - in particular grasses and cereal crops - and how they can be better utilised.

Barley, wheat, rice and model grasses will be the focal points of this research. The centre is hoping to discover ways of altering the macromolecules inside the cell walls to maximise their potential for reducing the risk of serious human diseases (through altering the soluble fibre levels in grain) and to benefit industry in diverse areas such as bioethanol production, malting processes for beer production, and pulp and paper manufacture.

Headquartered at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus, the centre involves collaboration with the universities of Melbourne and Queensland and has other major research and industry partners in Scotland, Sweden, Germany and the United States.

The centre has been established with $20.5 million in federal cash funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and an additional $12 million of support from partner institutions, and the State Government.

"This centre will play a critical role in defining the fundamental science that controls cell wall biology in plants, including important crop species," said the Chief Executive Officer of the ARC, Professor Margaret Sheil, who launched the centre last month.

"The fundamental scientific discoveries will inevitably point the way towards new technologies that will underpin Australian crop industries, which are valued at more than $8 billion per year, associated food industries valued at $40 billion per year, and the rapidly growing biofuels and biomaterials industries.

"The centre brings together a team of internationally regarded scientists, with research and industry partners from around the globe. They will not only provide delivery pathways for the research outcomes but will also provide unique international training opportunities for early career researchers, such as postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who represent the future of science and technology in this country," she said.

The Director of the new centre is Professor Geoff Fincher, who has more than 37 years of experience in plant and agricultural science. Professor of Plant Science at the University of Adelaide, Professor Fincher is one of four chief investigators for the centre, which also include: Professor Tony Bacic (University of Melbourne), Professor Mike Gidley (University of Queensland) and Dr Rachel Burton (University of Adelaide).

For more information about the new centre, go to:

Story by David Ellis

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A section of a mature barley grain stained with calcofluor (fluorescent dye) to highlight the endosperm cell walls (blue) and seed coat (red)
Image by Dr Matthew Tucker

A section of a mature barley grain stained with calcofluor (fluorescent dye) to highlight the endosperm cell walls (blue) and seed coat (red)
Image by Dr Matthew Tucker

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