22 October 2014

A total of 150 new research programmes, in areas of critical national importance, have commenced following the announcement of the 2014 cohort of ARC Future Fellowships in July.

Minister for Education, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, officially announced $115 million for the new Fellowships at a ceremony at The Plant Accelerator at the Waite Campus of The University of Adelaide.

Improving health and wellbeing of young people, creating better Indigenous languages records, and applying animal image processing to current robotics are just some of the commendable research projects that will be undertaken by the 150 new Future Fellows.

Minister Pyne said at the event that the Future Fellowships scheme played an important role in building Australia's research capacity.

“This new cohort of Fellows will bring further merit to our higher education sector, and help to keep Australian research world-class.

“The effort of our Future Fellows, and their talent, is what is needed to keep Australia at the cutting edge of world-class research.”

Two of the newest Future Fellows, Dr Matthew Tucker and Dr Sarah Wheeler, spoke at the event and both commented on how important the Fellowship would be in allowing them to undertake dedicated research programmes.

Dr Tucker is a Senior Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at The University of Adelaide and he will use next-generation molecular methods to identify ways to improve crop quality and yield for better food, fuel and fibres.

Dr Tucker was at an international plant reproduction conference in Portugal when he received a call notifying him about his successful Future Fellowship.

“This fellowship allows me to start new collaborations with other research organisations on campus as well as build on collaborations with Australian and international partners.

“My research is mainly focussed on plant development; I’m particularly interested in development of the seed, and the seed is a critical component of the Australian economy. In terms of the national economy, seeds and grains contribute around $10 billion annually as well as around one quarter of our food related exports.

“The seed is a very complex structure. As it develops it makes a lot of different cells types. These cell types are special because some of them can accumulate large amounts of key products for human use, such as antioxidants, dietary fibres, micronutrients and energy reserves.

“What I’m trying to address in my research is how these cells are made. We are looking for genes and signalling molecules  that can tell a particular cell to be a cell—if we can identify those cues we can search for superior cereal varieties with altered abundance of specific cell types, and these can be tailored to specific end-uses in the food, fuel and fibre industries.

“I think it is very important that we continue to focus on seed development because it’s critical in order for us to improve our crop productivity, to generate improved yields and to make sure we have healthier products to sustain current generations and future generations to come.”

Dr Wheeler, from the University of South Australia, will use her fellowship to focus on water stressed basins like the Murray-Darling Basin to aid water managers and policy makers to undertake better planning in times of water scarcity.

Dr Wheeler said that her project focuses on one of the biggest issues facing the world at the moment.

“Around 1.6 billion people worldwide live in regions that face severe water stress. It is expected by 2050 that this figure will rise to 3.9 billion.

“Looking at farmers is very important because farmers control 70% of the world’s water. If we’re going to achieve change we need to understand farmer behaviour and we need to facilitate the best way that they can change when they’re facing water scarcity issues.

“My fellowship will focus on transformational adaptation behaviour…in particular I’m going to look at what drives farmers to sell permanent water, what drives a complete change in a farming structure, what drives them to change locations and finally, what drives them to leave farming altogether.

“The second aim of my fellowship is to consider some of the negative consequences of what happens when farmers do not adapt to water scarcity and other external pressures. This includes mental stress and in dire cases, suicide,” Dr Wheeler said.

“It is  my hope that a fuller understanding of farmer adaptation behaviour will allow more comprehensive policies to be developed by decision makers that will  endeavour to mitigate the future effects of climate change for Australian society.”

ARC CEO Professor Aidan Byrne congratulated all 150 recipients of Future Fellowships in 2014.


Image: The Hon. Christopher Pyne MP and the Federal member for Boothby, Dr Andrew Southcott MP, with some of the 2014 cohort of ARC Future Fellows. 
Image credit: Russell Millard Photography