Our research

Our plant breeding research themes
The Plant Breeding Institute conducts research in a range of areas outlined here.

Cereal rust research

The Cereal Rust Laboratory hosts the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program (ACRCP), which continues one of the longest running research efforts at the University of Sydney. Cereal rust diseases are the most important biotic constraints to cereal production globally. The ACRCP conducts research on all rust pathogens of wheat (common and durum), barley, oat, triticale and cereal rye, with a very strong emphasis on tracking changes in pathogen virulence (pathogen surveillance) across the Australian continent and disease control by resistance breeding. Visit the cereal rust research page to find out more.

Breeding research

Cereal breeding largely focuses on wheat; Australia’s most important grain crop, but also includes barley, triticale and durum wheat to a lesser extent. Since the commercialisation of wheat breeding the PBI focuses on wheat ‘pre-breeding’ and research. This entails trait and gene discovery, the development of molecular tools to assist the transfer of these traits to cultivars and fundamental understanding of plant responses to stress. Work includes the development and implementation of genomic strategies for the improvement of crown rot resistance, heat tolerance and nutritional quality in wheat, and the development and improvement of wheat hybrid systems that allow farmers to exploit hybrid vigour. The institute coordinates the introduction, evaluation and dissemination of international wheat and barley diversity under the CIMMYT Australia ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation program (visit CAIGE website) and maintains a wheat double haploid service. Grassland based food ecosystems and their potential genetic improvement have become a recent research focus in response to our changing climate.

Primary contacts:

The PBI hosts the northern arm of Australia’s faba bean breeding program and provides new, high-yielding and disease resistant cultivars to farmers. The program targets the improvement of key constraints such as yield potential, rust, ascochyta and virus resistance and tolerance to drought, heat and frost. Research into chickpea adaptation to heat and drought stress, yield potential and nitrogen fixing ability is also conducted under the Legumes for Sustainable Agriculture initiative (read more about LSA). New chickpea germplasm, combining new traits with improved adaptation, is developed and research into new ways of growing chickpea in a changing climate is challenging old concepts. 

Primary contacts:

Indian mustard research and breeding focuses on (i) the integration of this important oil seed in rotations on northwestern NSW and beyond and (ii) the genetic improvement of grain yield, oil content and quality and chemical constituents of the seed and meal that have marketable value. Under the hot and dry environmental conditions of inland NSW, Indian mustard adapts and yields well. However, the dominant crops grown in this area are wheat and chickpea and optimising the integration of mustard into this farming system is a focus. Research explores new and alternative uses for mustard including extraction of glucosinolates for use in the food and pharmaceutical industries and options for biofuel.

Primary contact:

A demonstration farm of digital technologies for agriculture in northwest NSW has been established at Narrabri. This project “DigiFarm” has developed a digitally enabled network which simultaneously monitors crop, animal production and ecosystem health. DigiFarm represents the next stage in the development of The University of Sydney’s research farms in northwest NSW including PBI Narrabri. DigiFarm provides an education platform for farmers, agribusiness, schools, and other stakeholders to experience the latest ag-innovation thinking. Weeds are the greatest constraint to crop yields globally among all plant pests. Developing alternative methods of weed control creates opportunities for farmers to manage weeds more effectively in the face of herbicide resistance issues. Our research aims to reduce weed pressure and chemical usage using the latest digital and automated technologies.

Primary contacts:

Associate Professor Guy Roth (DigiFarm)
Associate Professor Michael Walsh (weeds)


Horticultural breeding and associated research encompass cytology, embryology, pathology, propagation, culture and sustainable production. The breeding programs are based on the philosophy of releasing “minimum input” varieties in response to decreasing availability of resources, the need to protect the environment and the likelihood of unfavourable changes in climate. Plants are bred that have reduced requirements for water, fertiliser and pesticides, and where possible, simpler cultural requirements. Biodiversity protection is also important and promising new lines are carefully assessed before release to ensure that they do not have weed-like tendencies. Breeding activity is centred on herbaceous ornamentals and horticultural vegetable crops. Each of these areas is supported by post-graduate student research. Herbaceous ornamentals are mainly bred through PBI’s joint venture company, NuFlora International (visit NuFlora), which has achieved a global market for its cultivars of various species. Vegetable crops are bred with funding from a range of sources including research contracts with industry, co-operative arrangements between PBI, industry and Australian government agencies and international competitive research grants.

Primary contacts:

Primary contacts:

  • Dr Angela Pattison