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Loxton Research Centre and in Berri at
the Almond Board.
"It was eye-opening and really fascinating,
to see how farmers do their thing and the
many technologies that are being
developed," Ms Davis said.
"I wouldn't have realised how beneficial
agriculture is to society if I didn't do the
PICSE program. Everyone's dependent on it
really," she said.
Now, having topped the Riverland Year 12
results last year with a TER of 97.75, Ms
Davis has enrolled in Flinders Bachelor of
Science (Honours), an enhanced program
for high achievers.
She plans to pursue her interest in physics
and maths and to major in Ocean and
Climate Sciences on her way to becoming
Friendly bugs boost Australia's grain output
Science on the ground and in the sky
Professor Chris Franco
It wasn't until she spent some time among
them that Desiree Davis realised scientists
could be found in some unlikely places.
"There are so many science career
opportunities behind the scenes. Even in
your local town, you just don't realise how
many scientists there are," she said.
In December, Ms Davis took part in the
Primary Industry Centre for Science
Education (PICSE) student camp and
Industry Placement Scholarship program,
an industry, university and schools
partnership involving Flinders University
that aims to raise the profile of the primary
industries sector and attract a high quality
and skilled workforce to the sector.
She spent a week in Tasmania visiting
various agricultural industries and
another in South Australia's Riverland
district, working in her hometown at the
"It only occurred to me a year ago but I'm
fascinated with the sky, I'm always
watching the weather," she said.
"Meteorology is a service that everyone
needs. You need it for agriculture; you need
it for everyday living. I like the idea that I'd
be doing something that's going to be
useful to everyone, every day."
Ms Desiree Davis
The search for bugs that will improve the
quality and quantity of Australia's grain
production in an environmentally friendly
way is being led by Flinders University.
The four-year Beneficial Microbes Program
also involves the South Australian Research
and Development Institute (SARDI), CSIRO
Entomology and Murdoch University, and
has $1.8 million in funding from the
Australian Grains Research and
Chief Investigator and Head of Medical
Biotechnology at Flinders, Professor Chris
Franco said the program aims to isolate
and develop bugs that are associated with
plants. At Flinders the focus is on those
that live in plants -- endophytic
actinomycetes -- that both control disease
and promote growth in cereal crops.
"Some of these bugs are used widely by
the pharmaceutical industry in antibiotics,
immunology and organ rejection drugs.
We've found that they are also very useful
in controlling fungal root diseases such as
Rhizoctonia which can devastate grain
crops," Professor Franco said.
"They also help plants to establish better
in the early phase of growth," he said.
"And since the spores of these
actinomycetes attach very strongly to
plants, can withstand high temperatures
and dry conditions and have a long shelf
life, they are compatible with most farm
Using techniques developed at Flinders,
Professor Franco and his team of
researchers will endeavour to isolate
potentially thousands of uncommon or
untested organisms in a wide variety of
plants, including wheat and other cereals.
In addition to developing methods to test
hundreds of organisms at a time, SARDI
and CSIRO will screen the isolated
organisms for their potential in combating
disease and promoting growth with a
view to glasshouse and field trials.
Murdoch University will focus on isolating
organisms that facilitate the acquisition of
nutrients, such as phosphate and nitrogen,
and which aid beneficial microbes already
used on farm, such as rhizobia.
A chance to explore research bug
A young researcher has the chance to be
involved in a pioneering project that aims
to clean soils of herbicide and pesticide
residues using crops.
A three-year Australian Research Council
(Linkage) Scholarship is being offered at
Flinders for a PhD candidate to undertake
field and lab-based work on the project
known as "the investigation of Australian
Crop Species for the Rhizoremediation of
residual sulfonylurea herbicide
contaminations in agricultural soils".
The successful applicant will be based in the
Environmental Health discipline within the
newly established School of the Environment.
Students with a good Honours degree in
biotechnology, microbiology or related
disciplines should contact Associate Professor
Richard Bentham on (08) 7221 8579 or
Professor Franco said the ultimate aim was
to get a small number of microbes that can
be taken up for commercial development.
"Up to 10 per cent of grain yields are lost to
fungal root disease. These bugs offer an
all-natural, sustainable and environmentally
friendly way of controlling disease, reducing
the need for fossil-derived pesticides and
promoting plant growth at the same time."
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