09:27am Friday 28 February 2020

Tiny organisms may hold key to global food supply

The laboratory for Soil Systems Biology – an initiative between the University’s Faculty of Sciences and the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture in the Chinese Academy of Sciences – is in Changsha, Hunan Province.

Its aim is to harness the power of micro-organisms to increase soil productivity and protect the environment.

There are an estimated 10,000 microbial species in just one gram of soil. They include single and multi-cell bacteria, fungi, algae, microscopic plants and tiny animals. Micro-organisms also inhabit hot springs, deep rocks and the Earth’s atmosphere. Despite their importance, relatively little is known about micro-organisms and their effects.

Scientists in the new lab will use state-of-the-art molecular sequencing, imaging and isotope tracer techniques to investigate the roles of soil-dwelling micro-organisms in carbon turnover, and nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus cycling in soil-plant systems.

Winthrop Professor Tony O’Donnell, Dean of UWA’s Faculty of Science, holds a Senior Visiting Professorship with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Both Australia and China have a great deal to offer each other in driving the agricultural innovation needed to secure our region’s food supply,” he said.

Opening UWA’s first joint laboratory with the Academy, the Australian Consul General, Jill Collins, acknowledged the long history and importance of collaboration for both countries. “Only through closer collaboration will we be able to meet the challenges facing our region over the next 20 to 50 years,” she said.

UWA ARC Future Fellow, Professor Daniel Murphy, who leads the soils disciplines group at UWA, said the joint lab would help train the next generation of soil scientists.

UWA Winthrop Research Professor Andy Whiteley sjkid the joint initiative underlined the fundamental need to take an integrated, international approach to global scientific questions and the key environmental issues we face.

Media references

Winthrop Professor Tony O’Donnell (Dean of Sciences)  (+61 8)  6488 8703
David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs)  (+61 8)  6488 3229  /  (+61 4) 32 637 716

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