Microsoft founder funds food supply research

2 February 2010

Professor Robert Park, from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, has received a $US431,250 ($478,200) grant to develop and mentor five key young scientists from eastern Africa in cereal rust pathology and resistance breeding.

Dr Kathy Kahn, Program Manager for the foundation, approached Professor Park to write a proposal for this prestigious grant in light of the global impact of his group's postgraduate training in rust genetics.

The project will bring five postgraduate students to the University of Sydney to undertake and complete studies and training in cereal rust pathology, genetics and resistance breeding.

"This grant will allow the University to continue to expand its excellent track record in training international students in cereal breeding and rust control," says Professor Robert Park.

The rust diseases are caused by pathogenic fungi, and although considerable success has been achieved in controlling them through genetic approaches, they continue to pose significant threats to global food security.

An emerging and serious concern in this ongoing effort has been a decline in the capacity of the international research community to respond to cereal rust epidemics, especially due to the retirement of key rust researchers and reduced staffing. This has compounded a shortage of trained personnel in developing countries, where the threat of cereal rust diseases is arguably greatest.

The project will therefore target young researchers in the developing world, especially east Africa where stem rust has re-emerged as a serious threat to wheat production in the past five years.

The skills and knowledge acquired will enable all scholars to address significant current rust threats, and to impart their knowledge in own countries so as to establish a self-sustaining system of in-country talent development in cereal improvement.

"We also see significant benefit in having people from different countries within a rust epidemiological zone training together, as this will enhance international linkages, vital in dealing with trans-boundary pests and pathogens", says Professor Park.

Contact: Prof Robert Park

Phone: 02 9351 8806

Email: 152e050442364f3e0b2b2833101b172520104350101a592845