This week Down Under

Aussie scientists find small molecules to help grow SMARTER cereals

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Jason Able with durum wheat in a plant-breeding trial
Jason Able with durum wheat in a plant-breeding trial

Related tags Adelaide

University of Adelaide researchers have been rethinking plant breeding strategies to improve the development of new high-yielding, stress-tolerant cereal varieties.

In a paper published in the journal Trends in Plant Science​, the scientists say small gene-regulating molecules found in plant cells, known as small RNA, are involved in stress adaptation, and they could be exploited to breed plants with favourable stress-tolerant traits.

Continual improvement through plant breeding underpins food security globally​,” said senior author Jason Able, an associate professor at the university’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, where he heads the agricultural science department.

With the world’s population set to reach more than 9bn by 2050, we need to intensify our efforts in breeding new cereals and other food plants with improvements in yield, quality and disease resistance​.”

Scientists have known about technologies based on gene regulation by small RNA for some time, though now they hope to be able to embrace that technology for a new plant breeding strategy, Dr Able said. 

The Adelaide team have coined the acronym SMARTER cereal breeding for the technique: Small RNA-Mediated Adaptation of Reproductive Targets in Epigenetic Regulation.

It’s a fancy acronym which basically means using these small molecules during plant development to control characteristics such as reproductive timing​,” Dr Able added.

Improving yield potential and stability under different growing conditions is a major focus in his team’s plant breeding research.

Crop production, particularly across Australia, can suffer significant yield losses due to environmental stresses including drought and heat.

We can use these newly developed technologies to alter gene expression in a controllable and precise manner, to enhance stress tolerance and alter reproductive processes, such as the timing of flowering to avoid environmental stresses​,” said Dr Able.

These SMARTER cereal breeding strategies could be one of the most promising solutions to improving agricultural productivity, by developing varieties with superior agriculturally and economically desirable traits and, most importantly, improved grain yield for growers​.”

Source: Trends in Plant Science
SMARTER De-Stressed Cereal Breeding​”
Liu, Haipei et al.

More stories from Down Under…

Coopers signs exclusive Australian Open beer supply deal 

Australia’s biggest independent brewery has won the right to be the exclusive beer provider at the Australian Open for the next five years. 


Though the value of the deal has not been disclosed, the deal is said to be one of the biggest national sporting agreements South Australia-based Coopers Brewery had signed. 

The contract means that only Coopers beer will be poured at Melbourne Park throughout the two weeks of the Australian Open, as well as lead-in tournaments in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart from 2017 and Perth from 2018. 

It also includes pourage rights for all other sporting and entertainment events at Melbourne Park. 

It is marvellous that Coopers, the last major wholly Australian-owned family brewery, is teaming up with Tennis Australia for such an iconic event​,” said Cam Pearce, Coopers’ national sales and marketing director. 

It means Australia’s premier summer sporting event, which runs over the last two weeks of January, including Australia Day, will have a premium Australian beer associated with it​.” 

The Australian Open had attracted more than 720,000 spectators this year and interest in the event was continuing to grow. 

Tennis is a great fit for Coopers and the Australian Open and its lead-in tournaments in other capital cities are perfect avenues for us to showcase our products to the Australian market as well as international guests who visit Melbourne for the tennis​,” Pearce said. 

He said Coopers would be supplying Coopers Original Pale Ale, Coopers Premium Lager and Coopers Premium Light throughout the event. 

In the lead up to the event, the brewery would be undertaking a refresh of its packaging for its Premium Lager and Premium Light lines. 

The Australian Open 2017 will run from January 16 to 29. 

Why is Zomato more than twice as popular in Melbourne than Sydney?

A year after it bought and supplanted Urbanspoon, restaurant review website Zomato now reaches just over 1m Australians each month. Yet market research shows that the service is more than twice as popular in Melbourne than in Sydney. 


Over the year from March 2015, just over 1m Australians visited Zomato in an average month, equivalent to 5.3% of Australia’s population.  

The site was most popular in Melbourne, where almost 9% of Melburnians visited it, followed by Canberra and Perth. Brisbane’s appetite for Tomato reviews was spot-on average, just ahead of Adelaide’s, but just 1 in 25 Sydneysiders visited it—the lowest rate of all mainland capitals. 

Outside these cities, 3.5% of people visited the website in an average four weeks, representing just under a quarter of its total audience. 

It might be tempting to assume that Melbourne is simply much more of a foodie town, with locals more interested in restaurant reviews. However almost two in three Sydneysiders discuss restaurants, by giving or getting advice to family and friends about where to eat​,” said Michele Levine, chief executive of Roy Morgan Research. 

This is only marginally less than the 68% of Melburnians who discuss restaurants, while in Sydney, almost one in eight consider themselves restaurant “early adopters” who are among the first to dine out at the latest eateries—actually even higher than the one in 10 in Melbourne.  

If Sydney and Melbourne share a similar level of interest in restaurants, why the gap in Zomato’s popularity? Levine believes this is down to disappearing competition.

In January 2015, the Indian digital media company Zomato acquired Urbanspoon. Six month later, the US-based site was gone for good and its traffic diverted to Zomato. This coincided with the end of home-grown competitor Eatability. 

Australian restaurant review website Eatability—launched in 2003 and bought by Optus in 2012—closed in June last year, around the same time that Zomato had fully dissolved and replaced its acquisition Urbanspoon​,” said Levine.

Zomato should take note that Eatability was consistently around three times more popular in Sydney than in Melbourne, even as its audience halved from a peak of over 500,000 monthly visitors in 2012 down to around 200,000 during its final year. Clearly, Eatability had offered something that Sydney wanted​.”   

Accordingly, Levine advises the new reviews player to be cautious if it wants to increase its footing in the Sydney market

It might need to examine those who’ve come before, and learn more about the differences between Melbourne’s and Sydney’s foodies​,” she said.

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