I have work experience in both commercial and academic environments, where I have undertaken research in world-class centres. My research includes dissecting mechanisms that underpin cellulose and callose biosynthesis in plants; functionality studies of enzymes involved in starch metabolism using a plant model system; and recently, employing metabolic engineering approaches, focusing on strategies to improve plant quality, produce bio-energy and bio-materials and functional foods. In my current project, I have used gene transfer technology to produce transgenic plants with modified phytosterols. These novel sterols may have applications in insect resistance and human nutrition. A patent application is being evaluated.
In addition to my technical expertise in research, I also have experience in the food and grain processing industries. I have a strongly entrepreneurial approach, based on firm knowledge and experience. I actively assist the Australian agricultural sector to secure new opportunities and to enhance international competitiveness and value.
Project management and leadership
Research activities and support
Capacity building, linkages and future funds.
My current research topic involves modifying plant sterol metabolism to control insect pests.
New approaches are required to control insect pests which cause enormous global crop losses. Phytophagous insects are incapable of synthesizing cholesterol which is an essential molecule for many important biological functions. In particular, cholesterol is a precursor of the molting hormone. Insects rely on converting host phytosterols to cholesterol via a unique dealkylation pathway. There are stringent structural demands if the phytosterol is to be used as substrate for dealkylation, therefore some phytosterols cannot be utilised by insects. This important pest-host interaction provides a unique platform from which to explore the opportunity for a new insect pest control strategy. We are developing a novel control system which we call “Sterol Interference”.
We have genetically modified Arabidopsis plants with specific sterol biosynthetic genes that synthesize non-utilisable sterols in sufficient quantities without apparent effects on plant growth. Insects reared on the modified Arabidopsis plants tend to have delayed growth. Transgenic plants are also undergoing further physiological and ecological evaluations. The transformation of these genes into agricultural crops such as cotton, rice and canola is progressing and has the potential to save billions of dollars in insect control.
Postgrad student supervision
Employment of gene transfer technology to improve crop quality and production, and to produce functional food.