Genetic and environment effects on growth of field crops, particularly where drought dominates. Application of quantitative approaches (crop simulation and statistical methods) and phenotyping (aerial imaging, canopy monitoring) to integrate the understanding of interactions of genetics, growth and development and the bio-physical environment on crop yield.
Main contributions in crop physiology and plant breeding methodologies that impact on the sugar and grains industries in Australia and elsewhere. Most recent major research program was in a national research program to develop “Climate-ready Cereals”. The areas of industry and science contribution can be summarised into four areas.
- Optimization of genotype evaluation methods in breeding programs
• By 2005, completed two sugarcane projects that radically changed the priorities and evaluation methods of Australian breeding programs such that the delivery of new varieties now happens 3 to 5 years earlier. The major outcome was a confidential industry report.
• Led the world’s most extensive collaborative study of wheat variety performance (200 trials). This has accelerated the delivery of better spring-wheat varieties into developing countries and into Australia. The results allow breeders to better predict which wheat lines to import as parents so that they can more quickly develop new varieties for Australia.
• Extended research to use “environment characterization”, which I co-developed in the late 90s. The basic methodology to better identify stable varieties in the face of drought stress, has been adopted by international seed companies and local breeding programs in a range of crops.
• Since 2009, led the development of a ‘Pheno-Copter’ platform at CSIRO based on hardware and software processing systems to allow capture and analysis of high-throughput image information from field crop experiments in wheat, sorghum, sugarcane and cotton.
- Exploiting crop adaptation traits through experiments and simulation studies
• Supervised and co-investigated research to demonstrate the adaptive yield and quality value of major wheat genes around the world (dwarfing and disease genes) and across Australia (water soluble carbohydrates, transpiration efficiency and tillering genes) and contributed to identification of a new wheat “ideal genotype” for the northern region
• As a co-investigator, developed a unique platform (to the public sector) in the simulation modelling of crop growth and plant breeding programs. This platform has attracted $6 million co-investment (ARC and private company) and provides CSIRO with full capability to model the breeding systems of major crops.
• Published pioneering research on the simulation of genetic controls of leaf growth processes within crop models. This original contribution has opened novel opportunities for the high-throughput simulation, testing and improvement of fully-specified physiological, breeding and statistical methodologies that are applied in plant breeding.
- Technologies to identify and generate new gene combinations
• Established strong collaborations with Wageningen University to develop and deliver (via training and publication) to developing countries and CSIRO, novel high-throughput methods of analysis of QTL by environment by trait interaction to improve selection for yield in drought environments.
• Led research in the evaluation of optimal breeding strategies for the efficient pyramiding of genes to accelerate cultivar development in wheat and other crops. Public software, developed in collaboration with UQ is completely unique in its capabilities; and has had ongoing external funding support since 2004.
- Scientific recognition
• Across the topics above, published 90 peer reviewed journal articles and 10 invited reviews 40 peer-reviewed conference papers. Associate editor on two crop science journals.
• Supervised 6 PhD students and currently supervises two post-doctoral fellows, two visitors, a programmer, two technicians and two students.
Senior Principal Research Scientist
The University of Queensland
Queensland Department of Primary Industries