A $30 million plant research facility launched Thursday in Adelaide could help make huge advances in international agricultural sustainability and deliver significant benefits to Australia's own agriculture and horticulture industries, it is hoped.
Based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus, the facility known as The Plant Accelerator is the largest and most advanced public facility of its type in the world.
The "super greenhouse" will feature a series of 50 high-tech glasshouses and laboratories housing more than1km of conveyor systems that will deliver plants automatically to state-of-the-art imaging, robotic and computing equipment.
This will allow continual measurement of the physical attributes (the phenotype) of up to 160,000 plants a year. The accelerator mode of this facility will come from its ability to more rapidly identify those varieties that will be successful, and therefore reduce the time between the breeding of new varieties and their delivery to agricultural producers.
The Plant Accelerator is the national headquarters of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility and has been jointly funded by the Commonwealth, the South Australian Government and the University of Adelaide under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and the Education Investment Fund. Support from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) was also critical in this project.
Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide Professor James McWha said the funding was welcome support for a facility that would lead critical research into the yield and quality of crops that can tolerate drought, salinity and disease.
"This facility is an Australian first and is world class in every respect. It will improve international efforts to cultivate sustainable crops, as well as providing a competitive edge for Australia's $28 billion annual agriculture export industry," he said.
"The University of Adelaide's Waite Campus is the pre-eminent plant science research site in Australia, with a critical mass of 1200 researchers from at least eight organisations on one campus. This facility will further raise the national and international prominence of the Waite Campus as a centre for excellence in plant science, genomics and breeding research."
Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility Professor Mark Tester said the facility would provide ground-breaking opportunities for Australian scientists.
"Ultimately, this facility will enable researchers to respond faster to market needs and give Australia a head start in a field of research that will deliver practical benefits to Australian primary producers," he said.
"We are confident that research conducted using this facility will lead to major discoveries that hold the key to solving some of the world's greatest problems in food production and hence food security, particularly in the face of climate change.
"The facility is available to all Australian plant scientists and will greatly assist our researchers in 'phenotyping' plants -- that is, identifying the role of each plant gene in the function of the whole plant. It has already attracted much interest among local and international companies looking to forge research partnerships and we're very excited about the collaborative opportunities that are emerging."