The Talking Plant Science lecture series showcases experts from different disciplines to explore the challenges, discoveries and transformations impacting plant science globally.

Presented by The ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture, this public lecture series explores diverse topics to help join the dots between different approaches and transform plant science for the next generation.

Please note that all dates and times displayed are in Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).


Phoebe Baldwin


Plant capacities to adapt to abiotic stresses

Rana Munns
University of Western Australia, Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology

Climate change and the challenge of feeding an increasing world population pose two existential threats. Climate change causes increased global temperatures that reduce crop yield, and the increasing world population demands higher productivity of crops and pastures on decreasing areas of traditional agricultural land. To understand the responses in common to the various abiotic stresses, we distinguish seven capacities that plants possess for adapting to abiotic stresses that result in continued growth and a productive yield. These include the capacities to take up essential resources, supply them to different plant parts, generate the energy required to maintain cellular functions, communicate between plant parts, and manage structural assets in the face of changed circumstances. We show how these capacities are crucial for reproductive success of major crops during drought, salinity, temperature extremes, flooding, and nutrient stress. This helps us to focus on the strategies that enhance plant adaptation to all stresses and identify key responses that can be targets for plant breeding.

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Digging deeper into the GWAS signal with a little machine learning along the way

David Kainer
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Genome Wide Association Studies, or GWAS, have become a standard tool for the discovery of the genetic basis of complex traits. For over a decade, results from GWAS have been used to guide experimentation, marker assisted selection and genetic engineering efforts. But for complex traits where we don’t have huge sample numbers (as with most plant studies!), GWAS outcomes can be very limited by multiple testing correction. Only loci that make it below the magic p-value threshold are deemed interesting. These loci often explain only a small fraction of the trait’s heritability, yet we know intuitively that many causal loci sit just ‘out of reach’. Here I will relate our efforts to relax those thresholds with the goal of reliably obtaining more of the trait genetic architecture. To deal with the peril of increasing false positives, multi-omic data sources such as gene expression and metabolic pathways can be fused into multiplex networks upon which network propagation algorithms tease apart the false positives from the true positives. I will demonstrate the process with examples in Arabidopsis and other species.

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The nature of exploitable variation

Bruce Walsh
University of Arizona

Bruce Walsh is a population and quantitative geneticist with very diverse interests in plant and animal breeding, evolutionary biology, and statistical methods.  He obtained a BS in Mathematical Population Biology from UC Davis, and a PhD in genetics from the University of Washington. He is currently a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Plant Sciences, and Public Health at the University of Arizona. He is perhaps best known for the two graduate textbooks on quantitative genetics that he coauthored with Mike Lynch (Lynch & Walsh, 1998, Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits [a new version, along with Peter Visscher at UQ, is in the works]; and Walsh & Lynch 2018, Evolution and Selection of Quantitative Traits). He has taught almost 100 short courses on quantitative genetics in over two dozen countries, on all continents (except for Antarctica, where he is still awaiting an invitation). He is also an avid Lepidopterist, having described almost 30 new species of moths and has three species named after him.

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Plant Breeding for circular bioeconomy systems

Charlie Messina
University of Florida

Charlie Messina is a Professor of Predictive Breeding in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida. His program focuses on the development of prediction methods for agriculture and horticulture.

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