The Centre for Plant Success research retreat next week will give Centre members time to reflect on the progress we have all made so far and look towards the future. In my group, after a long period of planning, we are starting to see activity in the lab as we set up our rice editing system with Postdoctoral Research Fellow Pauline Okemo and PhD Student Muhammad Abdullah as the foundation members of my team. This activity is commencing in the Queensland Bioscience Precinct but is expected to migrate to the new UQ Long Pocket laboratories as the facilities there improve.
Although we have now moved to an operational research phase, ongoing meetings exploring links between activities in the Centre have continued with recent discussions with Peter Waterhouse (gene editing), David Jordan (sorghum) and Brad Sherman (law). I look forward to facilitating stronger links with other Nodes at the retreat.
As we start to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic it will be interesting to look back at what we were able to achieve in this period. In plant genomics, we have greatly improved techniques for genome sequencing and assembly compared to pre-COVID times. Both our nuclear and chloroplast genome work has undergone a major step advance. This means we can be much more ambitious in what we can expect to achieve.
An important recent outcome from the lab was the first whole genome comparison of a female and a male from a dioecious plant species. The genome of jojoba showed an unexpectedly large number of genes were different including many stress response and hormone response genes as well as the expected genes for flower development. This reflects divergent evolution of the female and male in response to selection for reproductive success in the desert environment and indicates the potential to explore mechanisms of divergent adaptation to a common environment within a species.
I recently travelled with a group of archaeologists as far west as COVID restrictions would allow to Western Queensland near the SA and NT borders. The Mithaka have recently achieved Native Title in this area and have a strong interest in exploring their past use of plants and potential future uses. We attended the Mithaka annual meeting and are continuing to plan new projects with them that could link to Centre research.
Professor Robert Henry
Chief Investigator, The University of Queensland