Helping Australian farmers by improving the salt tolerance of wheat is the topic of this year's Hector and Andrew Stewart Memorial Lecture at The University of Western Australia.
Internationally renowned and highly cited plant/crop scientist, Winthrop Professor Rana Munns, will discuss the ways in which saline soils restrict plant growth in much of the wheat belt - and what is being done to overcome the problem.
Since 1977 - as a Research Fellow at UWA - Professor Munns and her colleagues have combined fundamental plant biology and targeted plant breeding to improve crop production, even in salty conditions.
"Plants exclude most of the salt from the water that they take up from a saline soil, but with time it can build up to high concentrations in older leaves and kill them," she said. "This reduces the supply of carbohydrates to the growing leaves and developing grain.
"In a search for genes that reduce the rate of salt accumulation in leaves, we discovered novel genes for controlling sodium transport in an ancestral wheat, crossed them into modern durum wheat, and showed that one of them increased yield in saline soils by 25 per cent."
Elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2007, Rana Munns is a professor in UWA's School of Plant Biology, Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO and Editor-in-Chief of Functional Plant Biology. Last year, she was presented with the ISI Citation Award for Plant Science.
Since 1966, the Hector and Andrew Stewart Memorial Lecture has honoured the late Mr Hector J. Stewart, MLC, and his son, the late Mr Andrew M. Stewart, both Wagin wool growers. Mr Stewart Junior was President of UWA's Guild of Undergraduates in 1929 and was invited to join the teaching staff at the University in 1937. He was twice Dean of UWA's Faculty of Agriculture.
The lectures are funded by money owed to Mr Stewart Senior when he was a Country Party Member of the Legislative Council in 1920 and refused a pay-rise during a period when, as he said, "throughout the State, many are suffering hardship." His additional salary accumulated at the Treasury and was given to the University in 1923 as bequest fund, where it continued to accrue.
The lecture is at 5pm on Wednesday, 17 April, in Room G 33, Bayliss Building, UWA. Free visitor parking is available along Myers Street and Parkway. Further information is available at The Institute of Agriculture.
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 7012 / (+61 4) 11 155 396
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783