Annaliese Mason, agricultural science PhD student at The University of Western Australia (UWA), has been awarded the prestigious 2008 Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship.
She will spend six weeks in France researching how to combat potential problems of abnormal chromosome associations in Super Brassica plants.
Announcing the winner at a ceremony at UWA's Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Helen Carroll said the Fellowship honoured her deceased husband, former Director General of the WA Department of Agriculture, Dr Mike Carroll.
"Recipients are chosen on their academic abilities, relevance of studies to an important area of Australian broadacre agriculture, their potential to benefit from the experience and their enthusiasm to impart the findings of their travels to the scientific, farming and wider community on their return to WA," Mrs Carroll said.
Ms Mason said abnormal chromosome associations in super Brassica plants led to loss of fertility and instability in subsequent generations, hence limiting development of this new species as a promising oilseed crop, especially for marginal cropping land with potential drought stress and poor soils.
Canola (Brassica napus) as a crop species is extremely inbred, with little genetic diversity for breeders to use for future crop improvement.
Canola, Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) and Ethiopian mustard (Brassica carinata) are two-genome hybrid Brassica species.
In her PhD research at UWA, Ms Mason assessed the pollen of 84 plants from 12 cultivar/species crosses, establishing that most first generation hybrids produced abnormal gametes.
To create a super Brassica plant which could make a positive difference to Australian farming systems, she conducted a unique crossing plan involving two generations of hybridisation and all three species.
This resulted in canola with two genomes (sets of chromosomes from different origins) and Indian mustard with two genomes, giving a first generation hybrid which is crossed with Ethiopian mustard with two genomes to produce a super Brassica plant with three genomes.
"This super-Brassica, with three different genomes rather than the naturally occurring one or two, has increased potential for heterosis and hybrid vigour, greater tolerance of marginal environments and increased growth and production," Ms Mason explained.
After initially enrolling at UWA in 2003 in the BSc (Genetics) she changed in second year to a more flexible BSc with a double major in botany and genetics.
"I enjoyed plant breeding and genetics units and was offered an honours scholarship by the Value-Added Wheat CRC to characterise progeny from a canola interspecific crossing
pre-breeding experiments, using molecular marker technologies," she said.
Her Honours supervisors were Associate Professor Wallace Cowling, Dr Matt Nelson and Dr Guijun Yan.
Previous winners of the Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship include:
Inaugural winner, Martin Vila Aiub: invited speaker to the 4th International Weed Science Congress in Durban, South Africa.
Graeme Doole: went to University of California at Berkley, with a focus on agricultural and research problems.
Christopher Jones: travelled to North America to investigate oil production in sandalwood that might lead to the development of a novel cropping system for WA farmers.
Shane Friesen: visited Rothamstead Research Station in the UK, the world's oldest active, agricultural research station, where he was involved in the Resistance 2007 Conference.
Di Mayberry: attended international conferences in Beijing, China and Thessaloniki, Greece.
Weihua Chen: spent three months at The University of Adelaide, experimenting on transport of phosphate in plants with world expert Professor Steve Tyerman.
Megan Chadwick: attended Utah State University, USA and presented on behaviour based management of livestock on farms at a conference.
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