Australian scientists awarded for spotting water efficient crops

Canberra, Jan 29: Two Australian scientists have been awarded the British-based Rank Prize for developing an innovative method of identifying crops with superior water efficiency, the Australian National University (ANU) said Wednesday.

ANU’s Graham Farquhar and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Fellow Richard Richards are heading to London to receive the 2014 Rank Prize in human and animal nutrition and crop husbandry, Xinhua reported.

The award citation says the prize is for “pioneering the understanding of isotope discrimination in plants and its application to breed wheat varieties that use water more efficiently”.

The award relates to a discovery made in the 1980s where they were able to correlate water use efficiency in wheat crops to the ratio of carbon isotopes present in the leaf.

The findings, first published in the Australian Journal of Plant Physiology, now known as Functional Plant Biology, have laid the foundation for other research currently taking place with oxygen and hydrogen molecules.

Farquhar is a chief investigator in the ANU-administered A$22-million ($19.4 million) Australian Research Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis that was announced in December, in which CSIRO is a key partner.

The only other Australian to have won the Rank Prize in nutrition was Hal Hatch from CSIRO Plant Industry. Hatch was awarded the prize in 1981 for his work in co-researching the C4 pathway of photosynthesis.

“On a global scale, water limitation is probably the biggest limitation to agriculture production, so we think there’s probably quite a wide applicability to other crops as well,” Farquhar said.

Richards said he was delighted to share the international prize with someone he has known since high school.

“Apart from providing a great buzz to be working with such a wonderful colleague and friend, it also demonstrates the huge importance of forming and nurturing strong collaborations between fundamental and applied research to benefit society,” Richards said.

The prize also demonstrates Australia’s international leadership in plant science, he said.

“It is critical that Australia maintains a significant research investment in agricultural sciences as food security and depleted water shortages for agriculture are two of the most important issues we face globally,” he said.

Farquhar and Richards will be presented their prize, which includes 80,000 pounds ($1.32 million), by Britain’s former minister for science Lord Waldegrave Feb 10.

IANS