Posts filed under ‘biotechnology’
I grew up in the southern state of a country in the Southern Hemisphere, South Australia. No geography confusion there. At the moment I’m living in the northernmost region of another country in the same hemisphere, which means I’m living in the north, even though for most of the world with internet access it’s still the south. However from my perspective, and that of Chileans, Arica is a northern extremity. It’s also extreme thanks to its exceptionally dry climate, which trumps that of my home town, Adelaide, which is also noted for aridity.
Arica is also an interesting place to be right now because Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, popped up this week for a celebration. The occasion was the day during the War of the Pacific (not to be confused with the Pacific War), when Chile took this region from Peru. Or more specifically, a big rock by the beach in Arica.
You might ask what I’m doing here, besides brushing up on South American history and international relations and taking South American Spanish classes. Despite reaching intermediate level in Spain, I needed classes because the language on this continent is different. So much so that I’m reading a book called “How to survive in the Chilean jungle,” which is not a guide to a jungle at all (I’m on the edge of the Atacama Desert), but rather the vocabulary unique to this skinny but vast nation.
As well as polishing my thesis I’ve been editing on a series of videos. They’re for one of the research institutes based at the University of Adelaide I’ve worked with before, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. You can see one here. I filmed the content before I left the country. I have my camera with me, so you can expect content from South America down the track.
An international team of scientists has developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM), bringing salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer to reality.
The research team – based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus – has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage.
Salinity affects agriculture worldwide, which means the results of this research could impact on world food production and security.
The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK.
The results of their work were published recently in the top international plant science journal, The Plant Cell.
“Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world’s food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases,” said the team’s leader, Professor Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).
“Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught will have a significant impact on world food production.”
Professor Tester said his team used the technique to keep salt – as sodium ions (Na+) – out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant’s water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot.
“This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant’s tolerance to salinity,” Professor Tester said.
“In doing this, we’ve enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We’ve used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better.”
The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.
“Our results in rice already look very promising,” Professor Tester said.
This story was written with David Ellis and published in Adelaidean magazine.
National Science Week in August brought the usual onslaught of work for ACPFG’s communication and education team, including a mammoth effort from Education Manager Monica Ogierman and some invaluable ACPFG volunteers at Science Alive at the Adelaide showgrounds.
This year we also ran some experimental public participation events for my research through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). I’m investigating whether public involvement in research funding decisions would impact public ownership and approval of research outcomes.
Three ACPFG scientists courageously volunteered their time and energy to pitch their research to the public, and be judged accordingly. All three are exceptional science communicators and we went through their presentations together before the events; the order of the presenting scientists was changed for each of the three events to eliminate some potential problems with the voting process. Nonetheless, recent PhD graduate Darren Plett was the clear winner, much to the horror of established doctors Rachel Burton and Trevor Garnett.
The model for my research came from an event I was involved with while working in the UK in 2007. Based in Cambridge as a science journalist, I was asked to write a magazine story about an event hosted by the Institute for Food Research in the nearby city of Norwich. The results from that event are the subject of an upcoming paper in the journal Public Understanding of Science. It was a resounding success and I thought the method could be adapted well to Australia.
Running the 70-participant event at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, including distributing and collecting two lots of surveys, was a massive effort. So I enlisted the help of several volunteers, including ACPFG’s Melissa Pickering and visitor Sandra Schmoeckel, who sacrificed the start of dinner to take care of latecomers.
The two smaller events in Canberra were at The Front Cafe and Gallery, in Lyneham, supported by CPAS and part of the Australian Science Festival. The audience was a mix of federal public servants and sceptical students, who had some curly questions for the presenting scientists.
I have yet to analyse the quantitative and qualitative survey data collected at the events, but the voting patterns at events in both countries have been consistent. In all cases the least experienced male researchers took first prize, with the most established female researchers coming last. It appears the idea that the public would make fair decisions about science funding needs to be met with some scepticism!
This article appears in Vector magazine – you can also read articles by two of the scientists who presented at these events in it.
I’m currently doing a research degree through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
I’m looking at how deliberative democracy could play a role in science policy in Australia.
What is cloning? Is it ethical? What impact could it have on society? Recent advances in science have provoked debate about where cloning will take us. This book considers the social and ethical considerations of cloning, including whether cloning humans is acceptable, whether people are willing to eat cloned food and whether we should take advantage of medical therapies associated with cloning.
The information in this book comes from a wide range of sources including government reports and statistics, newspaper features, magazine articles, surveys and literature from lobby groups and charitable organisations.
Editors: Lisa Firth and Cobi Smith
Publisher: Independence Educational Publishers
ISBN: 978 1 86168 410 3
Published: September 2007