A/Prof Stuart Roy on science and society behind future crop development

Stuart Roy in a field

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crop Development will significantly grow Australia's agricultural sector, with Waite campus’ very own Associate Professor Stuart Roy heading it as the Centre’s Deputy Director for Industry.

The Centre’s focus is divided between development and utilisation of the next generation of biotechnology approaches to increase crop productivity, and the consideration of their associated social and economic impacts. Stuart is excited about having both aspects as important parts of the new training centre, to really see scientific breakthroughs becoming a part of the future agricultural landscape.

We don’t want to make the same mistake that was made with the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, where we develop a great product but have no understanding of consumer acceptance or a direct pathway to market.A/Prof Stuart Roy

The introduction of commercially available GM plants in the 1990s came hand in hand with numerous concerns and criticism around the effects of such crops on human health and the environment. Stuart is hoping gene editing will be a more widely accepted, and implemented, technology to sustain the food demands of the future: “At the moment we have genetically modified crops such as wheat and barley which are tolerant to a range of environmental stresses, with enhanced yield– but we can’t put them into breeding programs because they are not generally accepted by growers and consumers. Replicating the success of these projects by using a genome editing technology that is not considered GM will provide a pathway for delivery.”

Stuart’s journey to become the researcher he is now was guided by many enthusiastic teachers and colleagues. His original plan to study computing turned into a Bachelor of Science and a keen interest in all things green because of an inspiring lecturer researching UVB damage in plants at the University of St Andrews (UK). A PhD in Cambridge University in single cell biochemistry resulted in an invitation from Professor Mark Tester to join him on the Waite Campus at the Australian Centre of Functional Plant Genomics, researching salinity tolerance in crop plants. Stuart now currently researches how to enhance wheat and barley yield in dryland agriculture and was most recently the Director for the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot Dry Climate.

In his new role in the training centre it is now Stuart’s job to enthuse and teach students, staff and industry professionals on the technologies of new biotechnology techniques as well as the regulations involved with this. Stuart: “Coupled with community and stakeholder engagement, the centre will redefine and secure Australia's future in agriculture.”

You can find the full University of Adelaide news article on the Training Centre here

Written by Le Nguyen, edited by Lieke van der Hulst 07/12/2021