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Agriculture and Environment students stepping out with fresh ideas


7 December 2016

Stephanie Tabone - winner of the award for best talk
Stephanie Tabone - winner of the award for best talk

The 2016 cohort of Honours and fourth year students studying Science in Agriculture and Environmental Systems, and our Master of Agriculture and Environment students have presented their findings at a fantastic mini-conference 'Stepping out with Fresh Ideas'.

The conference reinforces Agriculture and Environment's commitment to research-enhanced learning and teaching and provides students with a professional platform to relay their project findings, challenges and their ideas for future opportunities for research to their peers, academic staff and industry representatives.

Stephanie Tabone won best talk for her research in detecting heterosis in wheat using bio-indicators.

"Stephanie took us through her concept, experiments and conclusions in a presentation that was thoroughly engaging for the audience," said Dr Floris Van Ogtrop, who coordinated the conference experience for the students.

"Stephanie was able to clearly and professionally deliver her findings that investigated the performance of F1 wheat hybrids in comparison to their male parent," said Dr Van Ogtrop.

Ms Tabone considered physiological traits such as yield, plant height, harvest index, thousand kernel weight, biomass, spike length, chlorophyll levels in the leaves, germination rate and productive tillers. She also looked at metabolic parameters including photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, water soluble carbohydrates, 13C and 12C isotope ratios, N%, C%, water use efficiency in the leaves and the grain, and grain protein.

"Stephanie found that male parents demonstrated higher levels of yield, plant height, biomass and chlorophyll levels than their hybrids. There were however select hybrids that outperformed their male parent on several occasions, particularly with thousand kernel weight, stomatal conductance, harvest index and grain protein. She observed very little statistical difference between the male parents and their hybrids, indicating similarities in performance for individual traits," Floris said.

Winner of the poster competition, Guy Coleman being presented his award by Professor Alex McBratney, Dean of Agriculture and Environment
Winner of the poster competition, Guy Coleman being presented his award by Professor Alex McBratney, Dean of Agriculture and Environment

Dr Van Ogtrop said the assessors were looking for audience engagement throughout the talk and in question time, and the quality and depth of knowledge of the student's research. Stephanie's presentation exceeded their expectations.

Guy Coleman won best poster for his project that looked at assessing the relevance of unmanned aerial vehicle-based imaging in improving phenotyping precision, accuracy and throughput at a large-scale plant breeding facility in Narrabri.

"Guy's poster encapsulated his project in a visually exceptional manner that communicated his results simply and effectively," Dr Floris Van Ogtrop said.

Mr Coleman found that the time taken to collect the UAV-based data was 15 times shorter than traditional techniques and the UAV-based approach improved correlations with early season biomass over ground-based methods in 73.1% of comparisons. His results reinforce the benefits in throughput, precision and accuracy of a UAV-based approach over traditional techniques, and pave the way for adoption of improved phenotyping techniques into large-scale plant breeding facilities.

The best poster - people's choice went to Jack May for his project 'The Shocking Journey of Rhizobia'. The award was presented by Bob Fozzard from the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology. Jack's project delved into the improvements and limitations in legume inoculation technology.

"The inoculation of legumes contributes more than four billion dollars to the Australian economy each year, so this research is incredibly important in identifying areas for improvement. Jack's poster explained that once rhizobia inoculants have been applied to seed, the seed and inoculant need to be dried before moving through seeding equipment. Desiccation can kill a high percentage of the bacteria, so Mr May's research sought to identify factors associated with resistance to desiccation in different growth media and considered the chemical composition of peat substrates that could increase desiccation survival of rhizobia. Jack observed some desiccation tolerance in strains of bacteria, but has proposed a method of applying inoculant directly to the soil to avoid desiccation stress," said Agriculture and Environment academic, Dr Floris Van Ogtrop.

"'The people' indicated that Jack's poster gave a clear, concise rundown of the methodology and results. Although further studies are required to confirm improved methods for inoculation, the project was also identified as having real-world applications that can be taken up by growers and is seen as a worthwhile future research opportunity," he said.

"Each of the students presenting their research have contributed to the scientific community in their specific discipline areas and have played a vital role in revealing future directions for research. The students have proven highly capable of communicating their research through different platforms and this will be an incredibly useful skill whether our students continue on into research or seek industry or government employment," said coordinating academic, Floris Van Ogtrop.

"All the supervisors of these students are extremely proud of what their students have achieved over this year and we wish them well as they step out into their future endeavours," said Dr Van Ogtrop.