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Improving abiotic stress tolerance in durum wheat

Sustainable agriculture largely relies on maximising crop production under the challenges of climate change.

Naturally occurring abiotic stresses such as drought and extreme temperatures cause substantial losses in grain yield and quality downgrades. 

In the Australian wheat belt, crops are often exposed to multiple abiotic stress episodes at different stages of the growing season. Water-deficit stress usually occurs before flowering during springtime while heat stress often occurs post-anthesis at later reproductive stages during grain filling. Both stresses can induce a series of physiological changes including photosynthetic efficiency, evapotranspiration, nutrient and water uptake, nutrient metabolism and transport. 

A significant body of work has demonstrated that exposure to different types of abiotic stress (stress priming) can impact how plants cope with subsequent stress episodes. Stress priming provides new opportunities to improve stress tolerance in crops via different stress memory mechanisms, which could involve adaptive changes at both the physiological and molecular levels.

Crop epigenetics - Haipei Liu

Small RNAs (sRNAs) are new molecular targets for improving crop yield and grain quality as well as tolerance to abiotic stresses.

Plant sRNAs - mainly microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) – are one of the most important types of epigenetic regulators. Plant miRNAs can rapidly respond to different environmental and developmental signals, causing dynamic gene expression changes which lead to adaptive physiological traits that may contribute to plant fitness and survival. 

In cereals, a number of miRNAs (e.g. miR156, miR160 and miR396) have been demonstrated to regulate the crosstalk between water-deficit and heat stress responses. These miRNAs are also capable of providing stress memory to recurring abiotic stress within the generation. However, the miRNA‐conferred stress memory mechanisms in durum wheat remain unexplored.

Key references

Dr Haipei Liu


Dr Haipei Liu

Co-supervisors: Associate Professor Jason Able | Professor Amanda Able

Research area: School of Agriculture, Food & Wine

Recommended honours enrolmentHonours in Agricultural Science or Honours in Plant Science

Tagged in Honours projects - Agricultural science, Honours projects - Plant science, Honours projects - Haipei Liu, Honours projects - Jason Able, Honours projects - Amanda Able

STEM Careers Night: On-campus and online

Whether you're still at high school or planning to join us mid-year, taking a break from study or rethinking your career path, come chat with us at our STEM Careers Night.

You and your parents are invited to join us on campus on Tuesday 18 May to see what’s available in the world of STEM.

STEM Careers Night