This is my fourth Centre of Excellence (CoE). The previous ones were in complex systems, bioinformatics, big data and modelling, and now plant systems. They have all been very different. The most important issue that I have learnt is that being in a CoE is hard, and it should be hard. We all have an obligation to take the time and effort to understand the varied research of all members in the Centre. For if we do not do this then why are we in a CoE?
All CoEs are based on the premise that the research done is more than the sum of its parts. It is here that the Director and Deputy Director play such an important role and I want to thank Christine and Mark for providing an inclusive environment where we can attempt to reach this understanding. Plant Success brings together plant systems, mathematical modelling, bioinformatics, legal systems and indigenous practices, and to get these often quite disparate areas to talk to one another is no mean feat. For my part, I stopped doing any biology after Form 4 (New Zealand, 14 years old) and so building connections between mathematical modelling and plant systems has not been simple for me. That being said, I have really enjoyed the work I have conducted in the Centre. This work has so far included working with:
- Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos, Diane Donovan, Pamela Burrage and Brodie Lawson on population genetics and Wright-Fisher models;
- Mark Cooper, Brodie Lawson and the PhD student of Brodie and myself, Ati Rostami, on the re-engineering of the Thornley differential equation plant regulatory model along with the development of a new model;
- Christine Beveridge, Elizabeth Dun and Brodie Lawson on using structural properties of differential equations to understand how strigolactones and other hormones/signals regulate shoot architecture plant root-shoot dynamics;
- Brodie and I also look forward to bringing our emulation skills to support some of the re-engineering aspects of APSIM.
All of these interactions have needed the CoE in order to progress this research, and I know that I would not have undertaken this research if I had not been part of the Centre.
I hope that a further outcome of the CoE is to tie together plant systems and mathematical modelling more closely in terms of teaching into degree studies. Christine and I tried to do this many years ago through the COMBINE program at The University of Queensland (UQ). Initially, it proved too hard to incorporate modelling into first and second year biology subjects, but we did develop standalone units. Major change in first year teaching is a long and complicated road. It is exciting to report that now at UQ, the compulsory first year curriculum in science has a very substantial modelling component connecting maths and biology. It would be great if one outcome of the Centre would be to build on this and further integrate modelling and plant systems more closely within advanced courses and beyond UQ.
Finally, some of you may know that I have been fighting multiple myeloma for some time now. It affects all aspects of my life and I want to thank my wife Pamela, without whom I doubt if I could have carried on this far, and the support of the Centre in enabling me to continue to do my research.
Chief Investigator, Queensland University of Technology