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Australia supports research on crop diversity

I October 2004

Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has agreed to support at least three young scientists from developing countries to study agricultural biodiversity.

The first recipient, Tamar Jinjikhadze from the Republic of Georgia, was welcomed by Ian MacKinnon, chairman of the GRDC's Southern Regional Panel, and her academic supervisor, Professor Peter Sharp of the Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney during the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane today. The Congress has brought together over 1000 delegates from 65 countries to focus on the key issues for cropping systems that provide food, feed and fibre for the world.

“I am honoured and pleased by this opportunity,” Jinjikhadze said. “The chance to look at wheat from my country and possibly to help farmers around the world is very exciting.”

Jinjikhadze is investigating the genetic basis of resistance to rust diseases in a little-known wheat called Triticum timopheevii, which is native to Georgia. Her work holds the promise of improving the performance of modern bread wheats grown by farmers around the world, including in Australia.

It could be particularly important in Georgia, where wheat yields are low partly because of losses inflicted by rust fungi. T. timopheevii has already contributed rust and other disease resistance to some widely used modern wheat varieties, but breeding is difficult because the genetic structures of the two species differ considerably.

Support for this crucial work has been provided by GRDC’s grant of up to US$20,000 per year to the Vavilov-Frankel Fellowship scheme operated by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI).

“IPGRI established the fellowships to commemorate the contributions made to plant science by Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov of Russia and Sir Otto Frankel of Australia,” said Dr Coosje Hoogendoorn, Deputy Director General of IPGRI, who is attending the Congress.

“Vavilov was one of the first scientists to recognize the value of diversity for crop improvement, while Frankel pointed out the importance of farmer-created varieties for plant breeding. Sir Otto was also instrumental in drawing world attention to the urgency of conserving crop diversity and played an instrumental role in the creation of IPGRI,” she said.

The fellowships are intended to enable talented young scientists to carry out relevant and innovative research outside their countries in centres of excellence, thus contributing to their own professional development and afterwards to the ability of their countries to manage and conserve crop diversity.

Jinjikhadze has gathered about 150 samples from her native Georgia and brought them to Sydney University to assess their resistance against a selection of known types of rust. She will also be trained to see how differences in resistance translate into molecular differences among the various samples.

Capacity development is a crucial component of the Vavilov-Frankel Fellowships, which will give the Georgian Institute of Farming Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Jinjikhadze’s home institute, the ability to use modern techniques in its efforts to make use of crop diversity. Jinjikhadze also hopes to start a breeding programme that will transfer new sources of rust resistance into favoured Georgian cultivars.

In 2004, for the first time, the GRDC and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont company, are supporting the fellowships.

Dr Coosje Hoogendoorn said, “We are delighted to have GRDC’s support for work that shows the importance of agricultural diversity to all farmers in transitional countries like Georgia and developed countries like Australia.”

Background to Vavilov-Frankel Fellowships

IPGRI established the fellowships to commemorate the contributions made to plant science by Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov of Russia and Sir Otto Frankel of Australia. The first fellowships were awarded in 1993 and to date 24 scientists from 18 countries have benefited from the programme.

In 2001 IPGRI looked at the impact of the fellowships after the first five years. That study showed that almost all the fellows continued to work on plant genetic resources as professional research scientists. In addition to gaining new skills themselves, many of the fellows were also able to use the experience they gained to guide their home institutions into new areas of research and to put new technologies to work.

One of the most important benefits that the fellows identified was that the research they did during the fellowship enabled them to go on to complete an advanced degree, most usually a PhD. In addition, all of the fellows published the results of their research in a journal or presented them at an international conference, most getting one or two publications out of their research.

Additional information on the Fellowships is at

4ICSC would like to thank all its supporters including the following major sponsors:
AusAID, CSIRO, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and QDPI

More information:
Cathy Reade, Media Manager, 4th International Crop Science Congress
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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