My research focuses on heterosis – a phenomenon whereby the offspring of two genetically different organisms (both within and between species) outperforms their parents for a given trait.
I use the term phenomenon because, despite knowing about the concept of heterosis for over a century, we still do not have a full all-encompassing understanding of the mechanisms behind it.
I work specifically on hybrid wheat and my research aims to further understanding of the processes driving heterosis in hybrid wheat, which will thus unlock potential for major gains in terms of crop productivity.
Most of my research is based at the IA Watson Grains Research Centre which us a Sydney University campus located in Narrabri in North-West NSW.
I am assessing approximately 1000 wheat hybrids and their parents in multi-environment yield trials and comparing this information to the genotypes of the different parents. I am also looking at a subset of this group in a more in-depth, physiological level. I am hoping that combining the results on genetic, phenotypic, and physiological data will give us a better understanding of the how heterosis works for wheat.
Wheat is the biggest crop in the world, and if we can maximise the yield, quality, and overall environmental stability of a crop like that, we stand a better chance of conquering those overarching challenges.
I have managed to amass quite the mountain of data that I am slowly but surely combing through! So far, it is looking as though I am going to be able to identify different heterotic pools of wheat from around the world. This is will be vital in selecting which two wheat lines to use as parents for a hybrid.
Preliminary results are also indicating that some of the better performing wheat hybrids are yielding up to 20% more than the commercial checks for that area, which is a significant jump in yield. There is still much more to uncover during my data analysis so watch this space!
I find agricultural research frustratingly complicated, yet endlessly fascinating. Feeding the world whilst simultaneously improving the environmental sustainability of the planet are the overarching challenges of anyone in any facet of agricultural production, science, and research.
For me, one of the most challenging things about my work is the novelty of the broader themes behind my research. It often means that any discovery or interesting result I have leads to more questions than answers. That being said, this particular challenge is exactly why I love what I do.