Scientists at The University of Western Australia are racing against the clock to find plants that will provide bio-energy and bio-fuels and be able to perform under the environmental extremes predicted with climate change.
And an inconspicuous, aesthetically-challenged weed, Arabidopsis thaliana (or thale or mouse-eared cress) is offering vital information to researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Plant Metabolomics, to be opened at 4pm today (Monday, October 15, 2007) at UWA, by the Minister for Energy, Resources, Industry and Innovation, Fran Logan.
The centre is an Australian-first. Metabolomics is the use of powerful chemical fingerprinting to discover genes that control metabolism.
Led by the Australian Research Council’s Federation Fellow, Professor Steven Smith, the team at the centre aims to increase the food and fuel potential of plants. They chose Arabidopsis as their model because the small size of its genome makes it useful for genetic mapping and sequencing, playing the role in plant science that mice and fruit flies play in human biology.
“We have already increased the size of the plants by 50 per cent and increased seed yield by a similar amount through experimentation on the weed’s metabolism. We have also increased starch content in some plants,” Professor Smith said.
“These results are potentially very important for food, biomass, bio-diesel and bio-ethanol production from plants. How a plant deals with its energy resources is similar to financial management. A family managing a domestic budget will put something away each week for housekeeping, some to pay the mortgage and some for savings and investment.
“It is the same with plant growth. Plants use their energy for different activities, but we want them to spend more on their long-term reserves to produce more starch and oil, or more growth.”
UWA, the Western Australian Government’s Centre of Excellence Program and the Australian Research Council have provided the funding to establish the $8 million Centre.Scientists have already been recruited from Australia-wide, the UK, Japan, Canada, the USA, Thailand and China while collaborations have begun with other organisations including the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority at Kings Park.
Professor Steven Smith 61 8 6488 4403
(UWA School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences)