About Professor Robert Park

Rust genetics

Robert leads the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program, a national program that monitors variability in cereal rust pathogens across Australia, conducts genetic research to characterize new sources of rust resistance in cereals, and provides breeding support to assist all Australian cereal breeders in developing rust resistant cereals. His research interests include variability in Puccinia triticina, P. graminis f. sp. tritici, P. hordei and P. coronata f. sp. avenae, and the genetics of resistance to these diseases in their respective hosts.

Robert Park completed a PhD in plant pathology at La Trobe University in 1984, on Mycosphaeralla diseases of eucalypts. Since graduating, Robert has worked on rust diseases of cereals, firstly with the Qld Dept Primary Industries, and since 1988, with the University of Sydney. He currently holds the GRDC Chair in Cereal Rust Research at the Plant Breeding Institute, and leads the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program.

My most significant contributions have been in the pathology and genetics of plant: fungal pathogen interactions and in the genetic control of diseases. A hallmark of this work, extending from my PhD on eucalypt diseases (still cited and recognised by South African and Brazilian researchers who named a new species, M. parkii, "in recognition of Dr Park's significant contributions to the taxonomy of Mycosphaerella.." Mycol. Res. 97, 582) through to my career, has been the acquisition and application of critical knowledge of pathogens to solve research problems. My research on the Australia-wide population genetics of four major rusts in cereals has provided the basis for national resistance breeding efforts for the past two decades. In the wheat leaf rust pathogen, the work revealed five exotic introductions, at least 20 mutational derivative races, and one instance of somatic hybridisation – a world first and only the third documented example of this process in nature. Of even greater significance was the demonstration of partial virulence for resistance gene Lr13 in the hybrid race, and its ability to attack hybrid wheats heterozygous for Lr13; again, a world first with important implications for genetic rust control. The key to these discoveries was the utilization of isozyme and DNA markers to determine genetic relationships among rust races. For these advances, I was awarded a Humboldt Fellowship in 1995, which I used to generate compelling evidence of rust migration between the UK, continental Europe and Northern Africa. This formed the basis of collaborative research on the genetics of rust resistance in European wheats, aiding rust control in Europe and Australia. I have presented six fully funded keynote addresses to high-profile conferences, and since 2008 have led an international team in monitoring global spread of cereal rusts. 

Selected publications

  • Park, R.F. & Keane, P.J. (1982). Leaf diseases of Eucalyptus associated with three Mycosphaerella species. Transactions of the British Mycological Society 79: 101‑115. [45 citations, Journal Impact Factor, 1.861; formed the basis on research programs in several countries and is still cited].
  • Zwer, P.Z., Park, R.F. and McIntosh, R.A. (1992). Wheat stem rust in Australia 1969 - 1985. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 43: 399-431. [17 citations, JIF 1.352; review article detailing the role of host resistance gene deployment in guiding evolution of virulence in stem rust].
  • McIntosh, R.A., Wellings, C.R. & Park, R.F. (1995). Wheat Rusts. An Atlas of Resistance Genes. 200pp. Melbourne: CSIRO. [Print run of 1,000 sold out; 2nd edition currently in preparation. Is now a standard international text for wheat rust genetics].
  • Park, R.F., Burdon, J.J. & McIntosh, R.A. (1995). Studies on the origin, spread, and evolution of an important group of Puccinia recondita f. sp. tritici pathotypes in Australasia. European Journal of Plant Pathology 101: 613-622. [26 citations, JIF 1.482; clearly demonstrated the importance of step-wise mutation in the adaptation of exotic rust isolates to local agroecosystems].
  • Park, R.F. & Felsenstein, F.G. (1998). Physiological specialization and pathotype distribution of Puccinia recondita in western Europe, 1995. Plant Pathology 47: 157-164. [20 citations, JIF 2.012; only study to look at variability in the leaf rust pathogen across Europe; provided compelling evidence of long distance migration].
  • Park, R. F. (2000). Rust Fungi. In Encyclopedia of Microbiology (ed. J. Lederberg), Volume 4, pp 179-195. Academic Press: London. [Invited chapter; series editor Nobel Laureate].
  • Park, R.F. and Karakousis, A. (2002). Characterisation and mapping of gene Rph19 conferring resistance to Puccinia hordei in the cultivar Reka 1 and several Australian barleys. Plant Breeding 121: 232-236. [12 citations, JIF 1.092; resolved long standing confusion surrounding leaf rust resistance in diverse international barley germplasm].
  • Ayliffe, M.A., Steinau, M., Park, R.F., Rooke, L., Pacheco, M.G., Hulbert, S.H., Trick, H.N. and Pryor, A.J. (2004). Aberrant mRNA processing of the maize Rp1-D rust resistance gene in wheat and barley. Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions 17: 853–864. [10 citations, JIF 3.385; one of very few studies that have examined the effectiveness of resistance genes transferred between sexually incompatible cereal species].
  • Park, R.F. (2008). Breeding cereal for rust resistance in Australia. Plant Pathology 57: 591–602. [2 citations, JIF 2.012; invited review of the history and current challenges associated with genetic control of cereal rusts in Australia].
  • Golegaonkar, P.G., Park, R.F. and Singh, D. (in press). Genetic analysis of adult plant resistance to Puccinia hordei in barley. Plant Breeding. [JIF 1.092; First demonstration of adult plant resistance to rust in barley].