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Wheat heat tolerance


High-temperature extremes (i.e. heat waves) occur with unpredictable frequency and have been a significant detriment to wheat production in the northern region, and across Australia, for decades. Looking forward, the situation may become worse because the frequency and extent of Australian heat waves is expected to increase as a component of ongoing global climatic change. High-yielding wheat cultivars with superior high-temperature tolerance, especially high-temperature tolerance during critical stages of development such as during flowering and (early) grain growth, would help moderate negative effects of heat waves on regional and national wheat production. They might significantly improve yield, production and profitability during the heat-wave years, contributing to increased farming system sustainability. The goal of this project is to identify wheat germplasm with superior tolerance to short periods (e.g. 1-3 days) of excessively high temperatures (e.g. heat waves exceeding 35°C). We will use a combination of experimental approaches to impose high temperatures, both in the glasshouse and in the field, in order to make side-by-side comparisons of a range of wheat materials thought to possess high-temperature tolerance traits. The comparisons will include commercial genotypes now widely grown in the northern region. Variables to be measured will be seed set, seed size and seed yield.


Professor Daniel Tan.

Research location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program type



A three-tiered experimental approach will be used:

  1. Selected materials will be evaluated for relative high-temperature tolerance using existing glasshouse/growth chamber facilities at the University of Sydney and then at the I.A. Watson Grains Research Centre (Narrabri) after construction of the new research glasshouse at that site (beginning with the 2014 season, after commissioning of the new research glasshouse);
  2. the same selected materials will be grown in replicated field plots at Narrabri using a range of sowing dates to impose a range of temperature “treatments”;
  3. elite material from the glasshouse/chamber and sowing-date field experiments will be validated in the field using the new Controlled-Environment Field Facility (CEFF) at Narrabri, beginning in 2014 after CEFF construction, testing and deployment. 
An important distinction between (2) and (3) is that the sowing-date approach is limited by the stochastic nature of the weather (whether heat waves will occur and how intense they will be is unknown) whereas (3) will allow us to impose desired (controlled) temperature treatments, in the field, when they are needed to most rapidly advance the science. Where possible, parents of currently available mapping populations will be evaluated, but mapping populations representing the extremes of high-temperature response will also be developed for gene discovery. Putative QTLs for high-temperature tolerance in previously tested materials will be confirmed and crosses made to combine QTLs for high-temperature tolerance in adapted Australian backgrounds.

Additional information

I am seeking one PhD candidate to work on this project – a GRDC scholarship is available through the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. International students would require an RTP International or equivalent scholarship. A student interested in this project should have a background in plant breeding or crop physiology, and be prepared to carry out field experimentation, and laboratory analyses. Experience and familiarity with the measurement of physiological traits and plant breeding would be advantageous.

The successful applicant will be based in the Sydney Institute of Agriculture - Narrabri.

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 1711