Last week Dr Matthew Gilliham won the Viticulture & Oenology 2012 Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry sponsored by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation.
The Awards, coordinated by ABARES, aim to encourage science, innovation and technology in rural industries and help to advance the careers of young scientists through national recognition of their research ideas. Project recipients can undertake groundbreaking research and innovation with the objective of keeping Australia’s rural industries sustainable and profitable.
Dr Gilliham, a University of Adelaide researcher within the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, will use the $22,000 prize to investigate the genetics of rootstocks to improve Australia’s rootstock breeding program.
Grapevines, like other horticultural crops, are often grafted to rootstocks derived from related species to improve the plant’s ability to tolerate conditions in the soil.
‘In Australia we use rootstocks that tolerate phylloxera (a soil-borne disease) but they also have the potential to improve the ability of vines to cope with climate change,’ says Matthew.
The rootstock known as 140 Ruggeri is one of the most commonly planted in Australia. Over the next 12 months, will collaborate with researchers in Adelaide, Perth and in Verona, Italy, to compare genome sequences of 140 Ruggeri rootstock with the Vinus vinifera (wine grape) genome.
This information will help to identify candidate genes and molecular markers in rootstocks for drought, salinity, root pathogen and acid soil tolerance that could improve Australia’s rootstock breeding programs.
“We hope that this sequencing will provide the important first steps in linking useful traits to genes, an approach that will accelerate breeding for key rootstock attributes and help support a competitive Australian wine sector,” Matthew says.
Matthew hopes it will also benefit horticulture, pasture, grains and other industries that rely on plant production by revealing the information that is needed to help generate more stress-tolerant crops, and improving crop yield and quality.
Mr Neil Fisher, Executive Director of GWRDC, said: “GWRDC is pleased to sponsor young scientists as part of our investment in research, development and innovation in the Australian wine sector on behalf of our three key stakeholders: the Wine Grape Growers Association, Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and the Australian Government.”
“We congratulate Matthew on winning this award and we look forward to his continuing contribution to excellence in the Australia wine sector.”
Image: Dr Matthew Gilliham (centre) with Neil Fischer, Executive Director of GWRDC (left) and Hon Rory McEwan, Chair of GWRDC board (right)