New ARC Centres of Excellence announced
Minister for Education Dan Tehan has announced Australian Government funding for a new series of Australian Research Council (ARC) Centres of Excellence.
$35 million has been allocated to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture, to be led by Professor Christine Beveridge and based at The University of Queensland (UQ). The centre is expected to benefit Australian farmers, with Tehan saying, “The Centre of Excellence will investigate the adaptive strategies underpinning productivity and resilience in a range of diverse plants.
“This will deepen our knowledge of the genetic and physiological traits of plants, giving breeders unparalleled predictive capability to improve strain quality.
“The centre will bring together a unique multidisciplinary team from academia and industry to address the problems of food security and climate change, establishing Australia as a global leader in this field of research.”
Prof Beveridge said the team will identify nature’s success stories and translate these into opportunities to enhance yield and resilience in agricultural crops.
“Around two-thirds of the worldwide human calorie intake comes from just three plant sources — wheat, rice and corn,” Prof Beveridge said.
“Futureproofing these crops against diverse climates including drought, and expanding gains in diverse plants, is a must in order to improve food security for the projected 25% increase in world population over the next 30 years.
“By predicting the plant varieties that are best for particular environments, we can help farmers choose which plants to grow in what areas for each season for the best yield.
“An important component of the centre is the focus on the regulatory requirements, which will allow the new technologies to be scaled globally to futureproof agriculture in Australia and around the world.”
The centre will lead a global research network to translate novel genetic discoveries into on-farm crop productivity, with UQ set to collaborate with four Australian universities and CSIRO, as well as 12 other academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, Europe, Asia, USA and Canada. Together they will provide an additional $75.2 million in cash and in-kind support to the centre.
Another $35 million in funding has been allocated to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, to be led by Professor Ian Paulsen and based at Macquarie University. The centre is set to combine engineering with molecular biology to design and construct biological systems with commercial applications, creating “systems that will convert biomass from agriculture and waste streams into biofuel, biodegradable pesticides, bioplastics and other high-value biochemicals”, Tehan said.
These novel microbial cell factories will underpin an environmentally sustainable advanced biomanufacturing industry in Australia. This will in turn lead to significant rural investment, increased employment and new export opportunities.
The centre will help advance technologies in new personalised medicines, ensure a future of adequate and nutritious foods, provide us with biodegradable pesticides that are environmentally friendly and can help fuel the soil for future plant growth, and help us find more sustainable fuels for our everyday lives. In addition, the centre will train the next generation of synthetic biologists, fully conversant with industrial translation and capable of establishing the Australian bioeconomy start-up companies of the future.
Macquarie’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Professor Isak (Sakkie) Pretorius, welcomed the announcement, claiming Macquarie University is “a recognised global leader in synthetic biology research”.
“As the only Australian university in the international Yeast 2.0 consortium, we have united some of the best minds in biology, engineering, computer science, social sciences and business,” he said. “With the new Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, Macquarie is ideally placed to lead large-scale collaborative projects in this area, including the discovery and development of biosensors, bioenergy, biodegradable pesticides, ‘next-generation’ antibiotics and vaccines, personalised medicine and gene therapies.”
Researchers from Macquarie University will collaborate with experts at six Australian universities and 25 academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and America. Together they will provide an additional $61.1 million in cash and in-kind support to the centre.
Tehan has also announced $35 million to establish the ARC Centre of Excellence for Enabling Eco-Efficient Beneficiation of Minerals, to be led by Professor Kevin Galvin and based at The University of Newcastle; $34.9 million for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems, to be led by Professor Dragomir Neshev and based at the Australian National University (ANU); and $31.8 million for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, to be led by Professor Julian Thomas and based at RMIT University.
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