Crops with enhanced adaptation to a hotter and drier world are needed to combat climate change. Plants are sessile organisms and are therefore unable to seek out environmental conditions optimal for their growth and development. Instead, they must complete their life cycles in the environment in which they are growing. However, plants are remarkably plastic, such that a single genotype can exhibit multiple phenotypes, depending on the environment and management scenarios in which they are grown. Developmental plasticity can significantly improve yield stability in agriculture. In our ARC Discovery project (Cereal blueprints for a water-limited world), we are assessing the role of two gene families (PIN and VRN) in two model cereal crops (sorghum and barley) to better understand how these genes might regulate above- and below-ground plant architecture, thereby potentially enhancing resistance to abiotic (drought, nutrients) stresses. Overexpression and knockout lines were developed for both gene families in both cereal crops. We show that PIN genes modify canopy, root and panicle architecture in sorghum and root architecture in barley. Furthermore, we demonstrate that VRN genes modify leaf length in barley and stem width and panicle length in sorghum. These findings show that manipulation of PIN and VRN genes can lead to phenotypes with altered canopy and root architectures, with the potential to create genotypes that are better adapted to future climates.

Anthony headshotProf Andrew Borrell

Andrew Borrell is a crop physiologist and a Professor in Crop Science with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at The University of Queensland. His research interests include the physiological/molecular basis of drought adaptation in cereals (sorghum, wheat, rice & barley), focusing on traits that impact water demand (canopy development) and water supply (root architecture); the efficiency with which resources (radiation, water and nitrogen) are utilized by crop plants; the impact of leaf anatomy on photosynthesis; and novel water-saving technologies for rice-based cropping systems in Asia. He is particularly interested in the nexus between climate change, water, agriculture, and food security. Professor Borrell is a Churchill Fellow and has previously served as Centre Leader of the Queensland Government’s Hermitage Research Facility for more than a decade.

Prof Andrew Borell Professor in Crop Science E: a.borrell@uq.edu.au

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Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation hosts science seminars across the disciplines of animal, horticulture, crop, food and nutritional sciences.

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The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.