Partnership award to advance cereal science

Published on 21 May 2021

Plant Scientists at the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute (JHI) have won funding to establish a partnership with world-class researchers in Australia.

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This will allow the leading research organisations to pool their expertise towards advances in cereal science, specifically in barley developmental genetics and transcriptomics.

Dr Sarah McKim, Principal Investigator in the Division of Plant Sciences, is lead coordinator of the BBSRC Australian Partnership Award, with Dr Runxuan Zhang, a computational biologist at the JHI, as a co-investigator. This award will fund research visits by UK-based early and mid-career scientists to the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food at La Trobe University and Australian National University. During these visits, researchers will conduct specific experiments, both at the bench and in downstream computational tool development, to more accurately understand molecular pathways important for grain formation in barley.

Sarah explained, “Our research focuses on understanding how genes control grain traits in barley, a staple of temperate agriculture and the most valuable end use cereal in the UK. Partnership with world-leading Australian research institutes will allow us to answer important questions arising from exciting discoveries in our BBSRC-funded research.”

Sarah’s team showed that genes linked to final grain yield and quality regulate earlier developmental events during flower and grain formation. While her team has insight about the changes in gene expression and hormone signalling which may be involved, the exact molecular circuitry remains little explored. By partnering with selected Australian scientists, Sarah’s team will enable cutting edge technologies to resolve these mechanisms in detail and revolutionise our understanding of grain development. With the help of Dr. Zhang, this partnership will also ensure that these tools capitalise and improve on the latest computational approaches, providing great benefits to this project and more widely for cereal science.

“Collaborations between senior barley researchers between the UK and Australia historically delivered extraordinary advances in barley genomics. This award will support  similar relationships with our Australian partners now - the best scientists in the world to help to advance our current research. This award thus helps future-proof UK cereal science by cementing and initiating interactions for long lasting research collaborations and inward research investment,” Sarah concluded.