Monthly Archives: February 2011

Distinguished visitor Seminar – Podcast

Prof Ulrich Zimmermann

How do plants take up water in a drying climate?Listen to Emeritus Professor Ulrich Zimmermann’s talk which was given at the Distinguished visitor Seminar on the 22st February, 2011.

The traditional paradigm of how plants take up water from the soil and transport it to the leaves is that water is pulled exclusively by transpiration-induced negative pressure gradients through continuous water columns. Water under negative pressure is in a metastable state. Cavitation is therefore a frequent event and can be catastrophic to water transport during drought. I will show how plants use other forces (such as gel-supported and interfacial forces) in order to overcome drought-induced interruption of the water columns. Evidence for this comes from non-invasive and minimally invasive techniques, such as NMR imaging, xylem probe and cell turgor probe, applied to crop and (fruit) trees. NMR imaging and non-invasive probes have also provided evidence that moisture uptake from the atmosphere by mucilage-containing epistomatal plugs plays an important role in the water supply of leaves of crop (such as grapevine and tomato), but also of 60-m tall trees. The results challenge our current view about the mechanism of water transport in plants and have paved the way for the development of new tools for online monitoring the water supply of crop under field conditions.

Short Speaker Biography

Currently, Emeritus Professor Ulrich Zimmermann is Senior Professor at the Biocenter of the University of Würzburg and chair of the scientific advisory board of ZIM Plant Technology. He was Head of the Membrane Research Group at the Research Center Jülich, Germany (1969-1984), and from 1984 – 2009 led the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. The main focus of his research includes water transport and salt tolerance of plants and development of irrigation systems, biophysics of membrane transport, electromanipulation of cells and organelles, and turgor-mediated processes in algae and higher plants. He has authored c. 500 publications and more than 120 patents. Some of his most important inventions, which are used worldwide, include the plant cell turgor probe, xylem pressure probe and the magnetic, non-invasive probe for measuring turgor in leafy plants.

The inaugural Peter Waite Lecture – Podcast

Prof Geoff Fincher

Listen to Professor Geoff Fincher’s talk which was given at  the inaugural Peter Waite Lecture on the 21st February, 2011.

Higher plants resist the forces of gravity and powerful lateral forces through the cumulative strength of the walls that surround individual cells. These walls consist mainly of cellulose, non-cellulosic polysaccharides and lignin, the proportions of which depend upon specific functions of the cell and its stage of development.Grasses, which include the common cereals, arguably represent the single most important group of plants for human societies worldwide. Foods prepared from cereals not only account for a high proportion of our daily caloric intake, but also contribute to human health through the provision of fibre in our diet. Thus, polysaccharides from the cell walls of cereal grains are becoming recognized for their potential to lower the risk of serious diet-related conditions such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and diverticular disease.

Residues of cereal crops and a broad range of perennial grasses are also showing considerable promise as future biomass energy crops and a number of groups in both the private and public sectors are attempting to manipulate the composition of cell walls to increase levels of extractable, easily degradable and ultimately fermentable wall polysaccharide in various grass species.

Here, the influence of the fine chemical structure of wall polysaccharides on properties such as molecular size, solubility and viscosity will be related to their beneficial effects in human diets, and manipulations of wall composition that might enhance conversion of plant biomass to bioethanol will be discussed.

Short Speaker Biography

Geoff Fincher is the Professor of Plant Science at the University of Adelaide and the Director of the newly established Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls. Geoff is also the leader of a new CSIRO Food Futures Flagship Cluster on ‘High Fibre Grain, for work on the role of wall polysaccharides in human health and nutrition.

Until recently Geoff was Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. He was involved, with other colleagues, in setting up the ACPFG in 2003 and he was chair of the Executive Management Group from 2003-2010. He has also developed collaborative projects between the ACPFG and the DuPont-Pioneer company, and with ABB Grain Ltd.

From 2007-2010, Geoff and Mark Tester, together with colleagues at the ANU and the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry established the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. As part of this Facility an automated, high throughput phenotyping glasshouse has been constructed on the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide. This component of the APPF is known as the ‘Plant Accelerator’.

Geoff was the Director of the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide from 2003-2010 and has been the Director of a GRDC-funded program on the functional genomics of growth and end-use quality in cereals for seven years. He serves as an editor for the Journal of Cereal Science and is also a long-serving member of the editorial board of Planta. He chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee of Biomime, the Swedish centre for wood functional genomics. For a more detailed CV see here.


Named in honour of the pastoralist and benefactor who donated Urrbrae estate to the University of Adelaide for the study of Agriculture, the inaugural Peter Waite Lecture was given by Professor Geoff Fincher of the University of Adelaide to celebrate Geoff’s significant contributions to the Waite Campus and Australian Science.

Seminars in February

The first distinguished guest lectures in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine of the year will be on the Monday 21st February, and the second on the Tuesday 22nd February, both at 4 pm in the McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus.

The inaugural Peter Waite Lecture
Monday 21st February 2011, 4pm
McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus

Professor Geoff Fincher

Polysaccharide Structure in Cell Walls of the Grasses: From Human Health to Renewable Transport Fuels.

Distinguished Visitor Seminar
Tuesday 22nd February, 4pm
McLeod Lecture Theatre, Charles Hawker Building, Waite Campus

Emeritus Professor Ulrich Zimmermann

How do plants take up water in a drying climate?

More information on the 2011 Waite Seminar Series, the Peter Waite Seminar, and speakers’ bios are found at

Patent to be granted for salinity tolerance technology

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics’ first patent application has been accepted for grant in Eurasia.  The patent covers salinity tolerance in plants and applies in Turkmenistan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and the Moldova regions.

The technology was invented by ACPFG scientists Mark Tester, Andrew Jacobs, Juan Juttner, Alfio Comis and Christina Lunde (now of the University of Copenhagen).

The patent is for a protein that sits in a plant cell’s outer membrane and pumps sodium ions from the cell, thus improving the plants salinity tolerance.

‘The patent demonstrates that ACPFG research is not only world standard from a scientific perspective, but it also passes the difficult requirements for patentability,’ commented CEO, Professor Peter Langridge. ‘Some of our other patent filings will also be granted this year.’

‘Salinity is a problem in many parts of the world and a major cause of crop loss in much of the developing world,’ he said. ‘Eurasia is a major crop growing region and also suffers from salinity problems.’

Patent applications for 30 technologies have been filed by the ACPFG since it commenced in 2003.  Many of these are working their way through the patent systems in various regions.

‘This technology is still many years away from commercial production but this first patent is a significant achievement for ACPFG’ said Michael Gilbert, ACPFG’s General Manager.

ACPFG has over 130 staff and students and has published 240 peer-reviewed journal articles focused on improving the ability of wheat and barley to withstand abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity.

‘Gene patents are currently controversial but they are an important tool in biological sciences,’ Mr Gilbert said. ‘Whilst patents are expensive and difficult to get, they enable us to protect the interests of Australian scientists and growers.’

‘Patents are an asset that we can use to deal with large multi-national companies in the area of agricultural biotechnology,’ he said.

ACPFG retains Philips Ormond Fitzpatrick as patent advisors.

Australia Day Honour

Professor Rob Lewis

Professor Rob Lewis

Congratulations to Rob Lewis, the Waite Research Institute’s Manager Strategic Projects, who has been recognised by the Governor-General of Australia in the 2011 Australia Day Honours List. Rob has been awarded a Public Service Medal (PSM) “for outstanding public service in the area of primary industries research and development.” If you would like to read the full text of the commendation, you can read it at the Governor-General’s website.