The Centre for Plant Success uses an interdisciplinary approach to advance Australia’s capabilities in genomic prediction and genome editing, aiming to provide diverse outcomes with value to numerous disciplines. These will include:

fundamental understanding of the physiological and genetic drivers of evolutionary adaptions in plant form and function across lineages;

new mathematical theory and software capable of accurately estimating plant phenotype or yield based on genotype, saving breeders time and money;

novel plant genomes, and genomic diversity that will help safeguard species—particularly crops—against climate change; and

innovative legal and social paradigms to protect complex and intangible IP and increase investment in Australia’s rapidly-growing biotech industries

Feeding the world requires a step change in plant breeding

Over the first 20 years of this century, plant breeders have had success in developing new varieties of food crops—specifically, rice, corn and wheat—that produce more food on the same amount of land. In that time, the rate of increase in crop productivity, or ‘genetic gain’, has averaged about 1% a year.

This trend may continue but 1% is not enough of a gain to feed the world’s growing population. Even without factoring in the projected changes in climate, including increasingly extreme weather events, the genetic gain needs to double.

To achieve this, we need a step change in plant breeding.


The focus on just rice, corn and wheat also comes with 2 downsides which have heralded a crisis in food diversity:

of the world’s calorie intake is from these 3 crops, with low-income countries hugely reliant on them. Because of a lack of food diversity, about 10% of people are undernourished and 21% of children under five years of age are stunted. Many obese people are undernourished, in both rich and poor countries.

of the world’s plant species are used for food. To date, it has been hard to extrapolate what we know from well-studied species to other species. A huge opportunity looms if we can understand what knowledge is transferable to poorly understood species such as sorghum, cassava, and horticultural crops.

The current limitations of plant breeding

Crossbreeding plants to introduce traits or genes from one variety to another has been largely based on observation and correlation, without knowledge of how the plant really works. When selecting for a particular trait, breeders manipulate one gene at a time and wait to observe the results of their field trials. This can take years, especially in the case of trees.

About 7 times out of 8, the cross doesn’t produce the desired outcome—the plant fails to exhibit the desired trait or unintended consequences/trade-offs prove unacceptable.

Breeding is a game of chance where the odds are stacked against you.

The reason for the poor success rate is that plant traits are almost always regulated by more than one gene (and their products) which interact with different parts of the plant system, and which also have external influences, such as the climate and the farmer’s management practices.

Knowing the entire genome of a species is useful only to a point—the sheer number of variables at play make it impossible to predict breeding success with any confidence, even in rice, corn and wheat.

For poorly understood plants, it is even more difficult for us to understand how plant traits are controlled. We need to learn what knowledge is transferable across the plant kingdom.

Increasing the odds of success in plant breeding

We believe that through biology, mathematics and responsible innovation, we can increase the odds of success in breeding, accelerate the breeding process, double the rate of genetic gain and transform the breeding industry.

And by learning what knowledge is transferable between species, we can broaden the knowledge of all species, thereby increasing the diversity of food crops and ultimately the nutrition in the diets of people all over the world.

Our research projects are classified under three Pathways with supporting capacity projects.