Australia-China collaboration to focus on grains, health and wine

By Simone Mazengarb

- Last updated on GMT

Professors Keller and Zhang
Professors Keller and Zhang

Related tags: China

Australia and China are set to foster closer ties in agricultural research and wine production with the launch of a new collaborative research centre at the University of Adelaide's Waite campus in South Australia.

The new Centre for Agriculture and Health is designed to be a shared research and teaching facility for Adelaide and Shanghai's Jiao Tong University. 

Mike Keller, dean of the Waite campus, said the partnership had evolved out of a joint Master’s degree in biotechnology, established by the two universities five years ago. 

"We saw a real opportunity to do something that was unique in making joint academic appointments with China, and this really cements our relationship and gives us an opportunity to collaborate in a fairly unique way​," said Professor Keller. 

While the centre officially launched this month, the lab has been running since January and has already published several academic papers on cereal reproduction. 

One of China's most distinguished plant scientists, Zhang Dabing, has been appointed to lead new research in areas of food security, including the development of environmentally resilient crops, at the centre’s plant science and breeding laboratory. 

He has done some outstanding work in Shanghai with rice, and he has now moved to Australia where he is extending his work to look at barley and wheat as well​," Professor Keller said. 

Professor Zhang will be based at the centre for six months each year, and six months in Shanghai, where he runs a facility specialising in genetics and metabolomics of genetically modified crops. 

"This appointment is really opening a door for us​," said Professor Keller. "One of the great opportunities we have is not just for more Chinese students to come here but actually for our students to go to China as well​." 

He said the two universities had already begun talks with the Chinese government to look into a number of PhD scholarships that would bring up to five students from Shanghai to Adelaide annually. 

"What we have here is very strong complementarity in both expertise and facilities​. 

"The Chinese come here to use our plant accelerator, which is unique to any university system in the world, where they can measure the growth and development of plants very precisely​. 

"And by contrast, they have very high-end biochemical analytic facilities that we don't have here, for studying genomics and metabolomics​.”

One research project already underway has led to local wine producers Kingston Estate Wines in South Australia working with King's Luck Brewery in China. 

A future initiative of the agreement is to develop a research centre in grain health, looking at the production of grains and evaluating their health benefits. 

Keller said this had been the catalyst for his institute, which deals in agriculture. 

"In combination we can start to build collaborations and do things that we couldn't do alone or in isolation​," he said. 

"Some of the best ambassadors you have is people who will come to work at the campus, who go back to China and tell people about what we have here, what we have on offer​. 

"We expect more undergraduates will be coming here as that relationship builds​." 

Related topics: Policy, East Asia, Oceania, China

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