Francis Logan

Francis Logan

Minister for Energy; Resources; Industry and Enterprise

    Plants plus sunlight = food and fuel

    16/10/2007 1:37 PM

    A new research institute being funded by the Western Australian Government is conducting world-leading research to discover the answer to questions such as whether plants can solve the world’s energy crisis or world hunger.

    Industry and Enterprise Minister Francis Logan has announced funding of $1.5million to help establish the Centre of Excellence for Plant Metabolomics at the University of Western Australia.

    Metabolomics is the use of powerful chemical fingerprinting to discover genes that control metabolism.

    Mr Logan said the new centre, which he opened yesterday, would look into plant metabolism to understand how plants grow and how they allocate resources to different products, organs and life processes.

    “The centre is the first of its kind in Australia and will look at ways to increase the food and fuel potential of plants,” he said.

    “It will also help to discover how plants can be the key to a clean future.

    “My vision is to establish four pillars of economic diversification for the State and this centre will incorporate research into two of these – clean energy and biotechnology.

    “Science and innovation are important economic growth sectors for WA, and the State Government is committed to their future beyond the current resources boom.

    “Centres of Excellence provide a platform for academia and industry to work together for mutual benefit and are just one way the State Government is building on WA’s science and innovation capacity.”

    Plant metabolomics world-leader and centre director Professor Steven Smith said the inconspicuous weed, Arabidopsis thaliana (or thale or mouse-eared cress), was already offering vital information to researchers at the centre.

    “Arabidopsis has enabled discoveries that are not possible with other plant species or would take too long or cost too much,” Professor Smith said.

    “Research has already uncovered some very important results for food, biomass, biodiesel and bioethanol production from plants.

    “The centre is uncovering how plants use energy, and our aim is to discover how they can spend more of their reserves to produce more starch and oil, or more growth. Findings will be readily transferred to crop plants.”

    Mr Logan said the WA Government funding would allow the centre to recruit highly skilled scientists and purchase essential equipment.

    “Scientists have already been employed from around Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, the US, Thailand and China,” he said.

    “These scientists will bring a wealth of experience and provide research leadership and innovation to the centre and further increase the State’s science and innovation capacity.”

    The State Government provided funding through the Centres of Excellence in Science and Innovation Program, which currently funds more than 40 WA research centres.

    The Centres of Excellence, along with other research organisations, are building a critical mass of international researchers in WA. Another $10million is available for applicants under consideration in the current round of funding.

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