Dr Scott Boden - ARC Future Fellowship recipient

Scott Boden portret

Recent Australian Research Council Future Fellowship recipient and Independent Research Fellow Dr. Scott Boden and his team investigate genes that control inflorescence architecture and flowering-time in cereals, particularly wheat.

Scott aims to understand how a plant decides how many flowers to produce and why it produces them in a particular arrangement, their inflorescence architecture. Conventional crop breeding aims to generate plants that are adapted to the target environment such that fertilisation and grain filling occur under favourable conditions to maximise yield. Scott explains that this aspect of breeding has underpinned the adaptation of crops to different environments as agriculture spread with human migration, and it is a trait that needs to be continually modified to adjust to changing climatic conditions. Scott: “Something that we’ve harnessed and improved through agriculture is making sure our crops flower in the right conditions, so they are able to produce as many seeds as possible.”

During Scott’s post-doctoral studies, he found there are temperature sensitive phases of the plant’s life cycle: “The plant’s decision to transition from vegetative to reproductive development is irreversible, particularly for annual plants and is therefore tightly controlled by environmental conditions such as day length and temperature. When grasses, including cereals, flower, that tissue is quite sensitive to frost and warmer temperatures. At the opposite end of the growing season, pollen and grain development are very susceptible to heat, including temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius.” Scott’s subsequent research investigating the genes that determine the number of grain-producing flowers on inflorescence has led to unexpected discoveries about biological processes underpinning other yield-related traits. For example, his team found that a gene controlling inflorescence architecture also influences the amount of protein that accumulates in grain, improving the nutritional quality of wheat. 

The amount of protein in the grain is a major trait that’s important economically as it determines how much the farmer can sell their seed for. It’s also important in a nutritional context because we need to find ways that we can get more nutrition out of the same plants that we’re growing.Dr Scott Boden

Scott completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Adelaide which led him to complete an honours project and PhD studying meiosis genes at the Waite campus, where he developed an interest in wheat genetics. Due to limitations involved with studying wheat at the time, he decided to move to the UK to work on Brachypodium, another type of grass, at the John Innes Centre in order to expand his skillset. Wanting to further his research on wheat, he secured a second postdoc at the CSIRO in Canberra, bringing him back to Australia for some time. Soon afterwards, Scott returned to the John Innes Centre where an independent position allowed him to pursue his work on wheat inflorescence development. 

Scott is now back at the Waite campus to continue his research as he believes further genetic exploration into wheat, and other cereals, will be beneficial for future agriculture. Scott: “There’s a strong community driven effort to improve the resources available for wheat research. Sequence information has become available for wheat almost to the same standard as what we have for the human genome. It’s important that we support this research now because we don’t know for sure what food production is going to be like in 15 years’ time, but if we continually improve the tools and resources available to breeders, we’ll be in a much better position to overcome future challenges, such as food security issues and the negative effects of climate change in grain production.”

For more information on Scott's research or to get in contact with him, have a look at his University of Adelaide profile here

Written by Le Nguyen and Lieke van der Hulst, 05/01/22