​Australia collaborates with global scientists to improve crop genetics

Australian-first research collaboration delivered through Hort Innovation to develop new fruit varieties

Australian scientists will collaborate with global researchers to make it quicker and easier to develop new banana, custard apple, papaya, passionfruit and pineapple varieties for Australian growers and consumers.

The A$13m (US$8.5m) research collaboration will develop, test and deploy cutting-edge technology to improve crop genetics with a view to increasing yield, quality, taste and climate resilience.

Delivered through Hort Innovation and led by Murdoch University, the Australian-first programme will benefit Australian growers and their consumers by drawing on valuable genetic resources and genomics expertise from researchers in Australia, Bangladesh, China, Czech Republic, France, Sweden, Thailand and the US.

Hort Innovation chief executive officer Brett Fifield said faster, more efficient variety development is the aim of the initiative.

“This investment reflects a renewed impetus by Hort Innovation to seek out the best science in the world to help growers here in Australia,” he said.

“New fruit varieties that meet the needs of consumers and require less input costs for growers are a win-win.”

Murdoch University professor Rajeev K Varshney said the prospect of employing world-class research to accelerate genetic improvements is exciting.

“Through collaborating with this network of partners, we have the opportunity to reimagine traditional crop breeding programs while greatly expanding the genetic resources available and reducing the time it takes to develop new varieties for the market,” Varshney said.

“This project has a focus on crops that have challenging and complex genomic backgrounds. Grower variety requirements are not easily met through traditional breeding approaches, and crops where global under-investment in genomics has hindered productivity gains.”

Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers chief executive officer Rachel Chambers said the pineapple industry is pleased to be a beneficiary of this collaboration.

“Developing high-performing pineapple varieties is vital to the pineapple industry’s long-term sustainability and viability,” Chambers said.

“Growers have prioritised their investment in various breeding programmes, hoping to achieve pineapple variety development, industry productivity and a reduction in input costs – a win-win for both our growers and consumers.”

Australian delivery partners include Murdoch University, University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland, Griffith University and University of Western Australia.

International collaborating partners include University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign, US, Baylor College of Medicine, US; CIRAD France; Institute of Experimental Botany, Czech Republic; Kamphaeng Saen Kadets’re University, Thailand; Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) - Agricultural Genomics Institute, China; and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, Bangladesh.