Light, photosynthesis, action! New research centre set to secure food for the future

24 October 2014

A research centre exploring new technologies for improving crop yields has been launched today in Canberra. The School of Biological Sciences' Associate Professor Min Chen is Chief Investigator for the Sydney node.

Dean Trevor Hambley, Associate Professor Min Chen and Emeritus Professor Robyn Overall at the Centre opening in Canberra
Dean Trevor Hambley, Associate Professor Min Chen and Emeritus Professor Robyn Overall at the Centre opening in Canberra

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis seeks to increase yields of major crops such as wheat and rice by improving the way that plants capture the sun's energy through photosynthesis.

"This is an underexploited area of science that could enable us to feed future populations. By 2050, nine billion people are expected to survive on earth with the food resources produced by plants; today's agricultural methods will struggle to meet these demands," said Director of the new Centre, Professor Murray Badger.

All the food we consume and the air we breathe is the result of photosynthesis. Despite its importance for all life on earth, it is only recently that scientists have developed the technology to manipulate photosynthesis at a molecular level.

"We have now tools that could initiate a new agricultural revolution through enhanced photosynthesis."

"One of the key features of the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme, in addition to long-term funding, is that it allows relationships to be built nationally and internationally, and for relationships to be developed between universities and industry," said Professor Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The Centre will use the $22 million funding from the ARC to focus on national priority research areas, such as securing agricultural sustainability and developing plant varieties that are more resilient to climate change.

"This is a very exciting time to be a photosynthesis researcher" said Min. "It is a journey that has never been done before."

The strategic partnership brings together world leaders in photosynthesis research from six institutions: Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Sydney, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.