Making a Difference 2019-2020


Findings from the La Trobe University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology , which is led by Professor James Whelan, could lead to less fertiliser wastage, saving millions of dollars for Australian farmers. Lead researcher of the project, Dr Ricarda Jost, said that in countries like Australia where soils are phosphorus poor, farmers are using large amounts of expensive, non-renewable phosphorus fertiliser, such as superphosphate or diammonium phosphate (DAP), much of which is not being taken up effectively by crops at the right time for growth. Using Arabidopsis thaliana (thale or mouse-ear cress) shoots, the research team, under the supervision of Dr Jost and including PhD student Marina Borges Osorio, conducted genetic testing by adding phosphorus fertiliser and observing the behaviour of mutants with altered phosphorus levels. Bioinformatic analysis uncovered a protein called SPX4 that can sense vital phosphorus levels—the ‘fuel in the tank’—in plants and then adjust growth and flowering in response. Dr Jost says that the protein senses when the plant has taken in enough phosphorus and tells the roots to stop taking it up. If the fuel pump is turned off too early, this can limit plant growth. Interestingly, the researchers found that the same protein seems to have a ‘moonlighting’ activity, where it activates beneficial processes such as seed production. The findings provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms whereby plants sense how much and when to take in the essential nutrient, phosphorus, for optimal growth. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology is administered by The University of Western Australia. Lead Researcher Dr Ricarda Jost from the Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences at La Trobe University. Credit: La Trobe University.



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