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Southern Cross Plant Science

Native Grasses

Research Summary

Australia has over 1300 grass species which are intrinsically adapted to its varied and extreme environments yet none of the broad acre cultivated species utilised within Australia are of Australian origin. The potential of Australian native grass species as fodder and grain crops was identified by colonial botanists (Turner 1895), but they have been largely overlooked in favour of less well-adapted imported species due to a lack of knowledge and a reluctance to invest the time and funding into their domestication.

Australian biodiversity is unique because of our geographic isolation from the domestication and cultivation of all major cereal crops. Australia also has an abundance of native Sorghum and Oryza species, which have been shown to hold enormous genetic diversity and as such are a rich source of under-utilised genetics for cereal improvement programs. Their role in global food security has already been exemplified by the use of Oryza meridionalis and Oryza australiensis as sources of disease resistance for cultivated rice.

The uptake of native crop species has been hampered by a lack of high quality, reasonably priced seed. The major constraints to the domestication of native species are seed shattering, difficulty breaking seed dormancy and a lack of synchrony of maturity. Development of a non-shattering phenotype in native grass species will increase seed yield and reduce the cost of harvesting to a level which is commercially competitive.

Australian native grasses have also been shown to have novel grain characteristics with unique starch and nutritional properties. Ethno-botanical records confirmed through recent phytochemical analysis identified that many of these grasses, such as the Native lemon grass - Cymbopogon ambiguus, contain important medicinal compounds. These unique species are an invaluable resource for breeding programs for improving cereal crops and for agricultural diversification into new food, biofuel and medicinal plant crops.

Current research interests include:

  • Accelerating the domestication of native grasses
  • Investigating the use of mutation breeding to accelerate domestication of wild species
  • Identifying novel nutritional and phytochemical properties in the native grasses
  • Examining the genetic diversity in wild populations and the potential mechanisms for their adaptability to the variability of the Australian environment (including soil, temperature, rainfall, relatively rapid agriculturalisation)
  • Development and commercialisation of breeding lines of Microlaena stipoides for use as a new cereal crop

Funding/Collaborators

  • Australian Research Council, Grain Foods CRC, Australian Flora Foundation
  • Rural Industries Research and Development corporation
  • Dr Ian Chivers, Native Seeds Pty Ltd
  • Dr Robert Henry, QAAFI, University of Queensland.
  • Southern Cross University Environmental Science and Management Microscopy Department.

Research outcomes

  • Development, cataloguing and storage of a M. stipoides M3 mutant population with over 300 parent lines
  • Grain characterisation (functional, nutritional and ultrastructure) for over 20 native grasses
  • Improvement of agronomic potential of M. stipoides and understanding of its production system
  • Development of a Massively Parallel sequencing based approach to characterise key genes in previously un-sequenced native species
  • Conducted sequence based comparison of domestication related genes between native grass species and cultivated cereal crops.
  • Examined the genomic diversity between M. stipoides populations for different environments
  • Investigated the potential of native grasses for biofuel feedstock production

Delivery of research

  • Landline
  • PhD Thesis; Shapter, FM. 2008. An analysis of the potential of Australian native grasses to provide useful genetic and phenotypic variation for cereal improvement programs. Lismore, Australia, Southern Cross University
  • Australian Flora Foundation Project
  • The journey to domesticate homegrown native rice grass

Contact

Dr Fran Shapter frances.shapter@scu.edu.au

Publications

Book Chapters

Bhattacharya A, Rice N, Shapter FM, Norton SL, Henry RJ. 2011. Sorghum and its Wild Crop Relatives. In: Wild Crop Relatives: Genomic and Breeding Resources Cereals. Kole, C. (Ed.) ISBN: 978-3-642-14227-7 - Springer. pp 397-406

Journal articles

Shapter, FM, Fitzgerald TL, Waters DLE, McDonald S, Chivers IH, Nevo E, Henry RJ (2012) Analysis of ribosomal gene diversity in wild plant populations from contrasting climatic environments. Plant Signalling and Behaviour - 2012PSB0017R: Manuscript Accepted.

Fitzgerald, T L, Shapter, FM, McDonald, S, Waters, DLE, Chivers, IH, Drenth, A, Nevo, E and Henry, RJ. Genome diversity in wild grasses under environmental stress (2011). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108(52): 21140-21145.

Malory, S, Shapter, FM, Elphinstone, MS, Chivers, IH, Henry, RJ (2011). Characterising homologues of crop domestication genes in poorly described wild crop relatives by high throughput sequencing of whole genomes. Plant Biotechnology Journal 9(9): 1131-1140.

Kasem S, Waters DLE, Rice N, Shapter FM and Henry, RJ. (2011). 'A scanning electron microscopic study of the endosperm morphology of rice and its wild relatives'. Rice 4:12-20

Shapter, FM, Dawes, MP, Lee, LS & Henry, RJ. (2009). Aleurone and subaleurone morphology in native Australian wild cereal relatives. Australian Journal of Botany, 57( 8):688-696.

Kasem S, Waters DLE, Rice N, Shapter FM and Henry, RJ. (2009). Whole grain morphology of Australian rice species. Plant Genetic Resources, 8: 74-81.

Shapter FM, Eggler P, Lee LS and Henry RJ. (2009) "Variation in Granule Bound Starch Synthase I (GBSSI) loci amongst Australian wild cereal relatives (Poaceae)". Journal of Cereal Science, 49: 4-11

Shapter FM, Lee LS and Henry RJ. (2008) "Endosperm and starch granule morphology in wild cereal relatives". Plant Genetic Resources, 6: 85-97.

Dillon SL, Shapter FM, Henry RJ, Cordeiro G, Izquierdo L and Lee LS. (2008) "Domestication to Crop Improvement: Genetic Resources for Sorghum and Saccharum (Andropogoneae)". Annals of Botany, 100: 975-989 (Invited Paper).

Conference papers

Shapter, FM, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ. (2010) 'Opportunities for next generation Genomics to assist accelerated domestication of wild grasses'. Native Grasses Workshop, Melbourne, 11-12 November.

Shapter, FM, Malory, S, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ. (2009) 'Accelerated domestication of an Australian native grain utilising advances in molecular technology', paper presented to the 14th Australasian Plant Breeding Conference (APBC) held in conjunction with the 11th Society for the Advancement of Breeding Research in Asia and Oceania (SABRAO) Congress, Cairns, Qld., 10-14 August.

Shapter, FM & Henry, RJ (2008) 'Accelerated domestication of Australian native grasses', Native Grasses Workshop, Melbourne, 29 -30 October.

Shapter FM, Malory S, Chivers I and Henry RJ. (2008) Accelerated domestication of Australian grasses as new sustainable food and fodder Crops. Proceedings of the 58th Australian Cereal Chemistry Conference, Gold Coast QLD, Australia, 31 August - 4 September 2008.

Shapter, FM, Malory, S, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ (2008) 'Australian Wild Rice: an opportunity to develop new sustainable food crops', 1st Australian Wild Rice Symposium. Lismore, NSW, 17 July.

Shapter FM, Eggler P, Lee LS and Henry RJ. (2006) A phylogenetic analysis of the Waxy gene in a selection of Australian native cereal species and their closest cereal relatives (Poaceae)". . Proceedings of the 13th Australasian Plant Breeding Conference.Christchurch - New Zealand.

Invited Presentations

Shapter, FM, & Chivers, I (2012) 'Microlaena stipoides: the other white rice', 2nd Australian Wild Rice Symposium. Brisbane, Qld, 13th April.

Shapter, FM, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ. (2010) 'Opportunities for next generation Genomics to assist accelerated domestication of wild grasses'. Native Grasses Workshop, Melbourne, 11-12 November.

Shapter, FM & Henry, RJ (2008) 'Accelerated domestication of Australian native grasses', Native Grasses Workshop, Melbourne, 29 -30 October.

Shapter, FM, Malory, S, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ (2008) 'Australian Wild Rice: an opportunity to develop new sustainable food crops', 1st Australian Wild Rice Symposium. Lismore, NSW, 17 July.

Conference Presentations (Abstracts and posters)

2011 Malory, S., Shapter, F. M., Elphinstone, M. S., Chivers, I. H. and Henry, R. J. Mining homologues of rice domestication genes in an Australian wild grass species. Plant and Animal Genome XIX Conference, San Diego, California.

2011 Shapter, F. M., Ablett, G. A., Cross, M., Malory, S., Elphinstone, M. S., Chivers, I. H. and Henry, R. J. Utility of mutagenesis and next generation sequencing for accelerating the domestication of a new niche cereal. . Plant and Animal Genome XIX Conference, San Diego, California.

2010 Malory, S., Shapter, F. M., Chivers, I. and Henry, R. J. Towards the Domestication of a Wild Rice Relative, Microlaena stipoides Using Large Scale Gene Sequencing. OzBio 2010 The Molecules of Life - from Discovery to Biotechnology, Melbourne Convention and Conference Centre.

2010 Malory, S., Shapter, F. M., Elphinstone, M. J., Chivers, I. H. and Henry, R. J. Mining Rice Domestication Related Genes in Microlaena stipoides. Molecular Farming Workshop, Monash University, Clayton, VIC.

2010 Shapter, F. M., Chivers, I. H. and Henry, R. J. A new niche cereal may offer on-farm diversification that mitigates risks associated with climate variability. New Rural Industries Australia 2010 Conference and Exposition, Jupiters, Gold Coast QLD.

2010 Waters, D. L. E., Bundock, P. C., Wohlmuth, H., Deseo, M. A., Liu, L., Shapter, F. M. and Furtado, A. Genomics and Metabolomics for New Plant Products. New Rural Industries Australia 2010 Conference and Exposition, Jupiters, Gold Coast QLD.

2009 Malory, S., Henry, R. J., Shapter, F. M. and Chivers, I. Domestication of a Wild Relative of Rice, Microlaena stipoides. Plant Genomics and Beyond, Evry, France.

2009 Shapter, F. M., Malory, S., Chivers, I. and Henry, R. J. Accelerated domestication of an Australian native grain utilising advances in molecular technology. 14th Australasian Plant Breeding & 11th Society for the Advancement of Breeding Research in Asia & Oceania Conference, Cairns Convention Centre, Tropical North Queensland, Australia.

2008 Shapter, F. M. and Henry, R. J. Accelerated domestication of Australian native grasses. Native Grasses Workshop, Melbourne.

2008 Shapter, F. M., Henry, R. J., Malory, S. and Chivers, I. Domestication of Australian Grasses as Bioenergy Crops. ASPB Pan American congress on Plants & Bioenergy, Mrida, Mexico.

2008 Shapter, F. M., Henry, R. J., Malory, S. and Chivers, I. Domestication of Australian Grasses. Harlan II. An International Symposium BIODIVERSITY IN AGRICULTURE: Domestication, Evolution, & Sustainability . University of California, Davis.

2008 Shapter, F. M., Malory, S., Chivers, I. and Henry, R. J. Accelerated domestication of Australian grasses as new sustainable food and fodder Crops. 58th Australian Cereal Chemistry Conference, Gold Coast QLD, Australia.

2008 Shapter, F. M., Malory, S., Chivers, I. and Henry, R. J. Australian Wild Rice: An Opportunity to Develop New Sustainable Food Crops. 1st Australian Wild Rice Symposium: Australia, a major centre of diversity for rice, Lismore, NSW.