WITH an aim to support the development of the next generation of plant scientists, InterGrain last week hosted its first student conference, which saw the 12 PhD students the breeding company supports descend on the head office in Perth for a two-day workshop.
InterGrain embraces collaboration and is committed to research projects aligned with its core mission - delivering grower value through market leading varieties.
A key part of that commitment involves collaborative research and the ongoing support of PhD students to become the next generation of agriculture researchers.
That support goes across a broad range of projects, including barley proteomics, barley head loss, a 100-day wheat, falling number and sprouting tolerance, statistics and biometrics.
While some of the PhD researchers work at InterGrain within the business, others are based at universities and much less engaged with it a result, so the aim of the conference was to bring them all together to develop a scientific community for them to exchange ideas and build networks.
InterGrain chief executive officer Tress Walmsley said supporting PhD students was a great way to address a very defined issue and take a deep dive on it for three to four years.
"PhD students are very good at coming up with new knowledge through their scientific discoveries, but it's often difficult for that knowledge to be applied in a breeding program," Ms Walmsley said.
"Often a researcher doesn't understand the scale we work at - they'll run an experiment in a glass house with 20 individuals, whereas our barley program could have up to 100,000 individuals.
"If we can get PhD students to understand more about how an actual breeding program works, it will help them on their quest to make significant changes to the industry."
Over the course of the two-day conference, the students were given an introduction to InterGrain's wheat and barley programs and breeding strategy, as well as a research farm tour.
Each student also gave a 15 minute presentation on their research, partly so InterGrain could get an update on where they're up to, but also so they could be exposed to other ideas outside of what they're working on, thereby broadening their industry knowledge and network.
Clare O'Lone is undertaking an industry PhD which is a collaboration between InterGrain, CSIRO and Edith Cowan University looking at the proteomics behind barley malting.
"I'm trying to understand what proteins are possibly expressed across the malting time course to look for novel or unique proteins which could improve the process in relation to sustainability and water use," Ms O'Lone said.
"Malting is an energy intensive process, so I'm looking for ways of finding proteins which could be beneficial for varietal development in breeding programs to be integrated for a sustainable malting approach."
She is 2.5 years into her research and while she has found some exciting research so far, further investigation into how it could practically be applied to varietal development is still needed.
For Ms O'Lone, the support of InterGrain in terms of having grass roots knowledge from a breeder has been invaluable and the workshop provided the opportunity to gain a better understanding of where her research can be applied in a practical sense for the benefit of growers and industry.
"We're always looking for ways to improve sustainability in an economical way," she said.
"If we can do that through varietal development for malting then it helps a really important part of the current climate change conversation."
InterGrain fully funded the flights and accommodation for the students and hopes to make the conference an annual event.
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