Declining global biodiversity, which threatens plant genetic diversity and therefore the raw materials humans rely on for food, fibre, fuel, medicine and industrial products, has led to a far ranging collaborative research project between The University of Western Australia (UWA) and Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in the Sultanate of Oman.
A 2004 visit by UWA's Professor Alistar Robertson, then Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (FNAS) and Professor Kadambot Siddique, Chair in Agriculture and Director of the Institute of Agriculture, established links with SQU.
Subsequent collaboration has involved staff exchanges, joint scientific projects and two recent internships for Omani students.
The six week internships for two outstanding undergraduates majoring in crop sciences at SQU, were organised by Dr Michael Walsh, Senior Research Fellow at UWA's Western Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI), while he was on sabbatical in Oman.
Based on their academic excellence, Ruqaiya Al-Mas'oudi and Safa Al-Hinaai were accepted for training at UWA with FNAS researchers.
Ms Al-Mas'oudi, supervised by Dr Walsh, conducted whole plant screening to establish the true extent of bromoxynil herbicide resistance in a wild radish population collected from WA's grainbelt.
She was also exposed to molecular based research on ryegrass herbicide resistance and visited the grainbelt to learn about WA broadacre cropping.
Ms Al-Hinaai, supervised by Dr Heather Clarke, Senior Research Fellow at the UWA based Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), made wide crosses between cultivated chickpea and some of its wild annual relatives from the Middle East.
Tissue culture technology was used to rescue hybrid embryos in the laboratory at UWA.
Ms Al-Hinaai investigated how different components of the artificial medium could be adjusted to manipulate hybrid growth and development and used DNA-based techniques to test ‘hybridity'.
Dr Clarke said FNAS staff had enjoyed working with the Omani students and learning about life in Oman.
"We hope they will return to UWA as postgraduate students in the near future," she said.
Collaboration between UWA and SQU continues, with a joint project titled "Conservation and Utilisation of Plant Resources in Oman", which began in 2007. It is supported by funding from His Majesty the Sultan of Oman.
Professor Siddique said the project's major aim was conserving indigenous plant germplasm, vital to developing new varieties and improving existing agricultural and medicinal plant species.
"Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture provide the biological basis for world food security and support the livelihood of every human," he said.
"These resources serve as the plant breeder's most important raw material to develop new varieties and the farmer's most essential input.
"They are therefore essential for sustainable agricultural production and will provide us with useful information on local germplasm for breeders to use in Oman and Australia in future crop and pasture improvement projects.
"The project will also train postgraduate students, scientists and technicians in conservation, characterisation and molecular approaches of plant genetic resources," Professor Siddique said.
Professor Kadambot Siddique (+61 8) 6488 7012 / (+61 4) 11 155 396
Dr Michael Walsh (+61 8) 6488 7872
Dr Heather Clarke (+61 8) 6488 1648
Simone Hewett / Sally-Ann Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 7977
(+61 4) 20 790 097 / (+61 4) 20 790 098