Genetics can be used to shape plants underground so they absorb water better

Recent discoveries by a University of Queensland agricultural scientist provide the basis for custom designing plant roots. Her discovery is already being used by plant breeders to develop drought-resistant sorghum crops. [click to continue…]

In flour it reduces heart disease risk say Melbourne and WA researchers

You can lower your risk of heart disease significantly, just by using flour containing 40 per cent lupin beans in the place of conventional wholemeal flour, according to research by Victoria University dietitian Dr Regina Belski and colleagues from the University of Western Australia. [click to continue…]

Feeding weeds fertiliser sounds like exactly the wrong thing, if you want to get rid of them, but Jennifer Firn of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems has been doing just that—to control African lovegrass, an invasive species of rangelands in every Australian state.

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A biotechnologist from the South Australian Research and Development Institute has taken using “everything but the pig’s squeal” to new lengths. Through clever recycling of pig waste, Andrew Ward has been able to produce feed for aquaculture, water for irrigation, and methane for energy. His ‘waste food chain’ can be applied to breweries, wineries and any system producing organic waste. [click to continue…]

Researchers at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory have developed a new test for foot-and-mouth disease that involves no infectious viral material and can differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals. This ‘DIVA’ test could transform how foot-and-mouth disease is controlled in future, because it’s so inexpensive and does not require infectious virus to produce the reagents.

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Sheep smarter than we think

30 August 2005

in 2005

Armidale sheep put to the test in a complex maze

Sheep are smarter than we think. They can learn and remember according to CSIRO researchers from Armidale in NSW. The team is working to identify and breed smarter sheep as part of their work to improve animal welfare and production.

Caroline Lee, a member of the animal welfare team at the F D McMaster Laboratory, has developed a complex maze test to measure intelligence and learning in sheep, similar to those used for rats and mice.

“Using the maze, we have already shown that sheep have excellent spatial memory and are able learn and improve their performance. And they can retain this information for a six-week period,” Dr Lee said. 

“The aim of our work is to identify intelligent sheep, by accurately measuring how they perform in the maze. This will improve animal welfare by enabling us to select animals that are better suited to our changing farming systems.

“With the move towards more automated farming, being able to select smarter sheep will make them easier to look after and monitor on the farm. For instance, the latest methods for weighing sheep involve them walking independently across a weighbridge.”

“Smart sheep can do this readily. Such technology makes for happier sheep, and increased productivity,” she said.

The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures learning and memory. 

Caroline is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

The research is part of a collaborative project between CSIRO, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) France and University of Western Australia and is funded by the French-Australian Science and Technology Program.





Sheep waiting to enter the maze, with Caroline

A sheep entering the maze

Caroline observing a sheep in the maze,
 making its way to its flockmates

Two plant genes have been identified that could lead to new crop varieties resistant to fungal diseases, meaning increased productivity for farmers and improved quality and cheaper costs for consumers.

These two genes can help plants boost their own immunity to disease, resulting in less need for chemical sprays, improved produce quality and increased shelf life for crop products.

Plant diseases are a major problem for growers, especially in northern Australia where fungal disease wipes out millions of dollars of production from grain and forage crops each year.

“Although it may seem quiet on the outside, a molecular war is being waged inside plants under attack from fungal invaders,” said University of Queensland PhD student, Ken McGrath.

Ken was one of 16 students selected to take part in the 2004 Fresh Science Awards held recently in Melbourne, where he presented his research to university students and the general public.

“Plants themselves are not defenceless against disease – inside every cell is an array of defensive weapons that the plant can produce to prevent the intruder from taking over,” Ken said.

As part of his research with the CRC for Tropical Plant Protection, Ken is looking to see how the two genes he has identified can be used to boost a plant’s own natural defences against fungal attacks.

“Knowledge of how both of these genes work allows us to develop plants that are able to defend themselves against a fungal attack more effectively,” he said.

“Plants that have their troops always at their post are potentially resistant to a range of fungal diseases, because they have a head start on the invader.”

This study has developed plants with higher levels of their own natural defences in place, ready to resist fungal disease.

These plants are currently being examined to see if an activated defence system translates into increased resistance against a number of agriculturally important fungal diseases that affect valuable crops like bananas, cotton, wheat and barley.

 If successful, this research will result in cheaper and better quality produce that has been treated with fewer chemicals and is more resistant to spoilage.

 “By putting the balance of power back with the plants, we can help them win their battle against their fungal foes.”

Arabidopsis thaliana Ken isolating diseased cells Ken preparing samples  

Ken with his resistant plants

Using a UV illuminator to visualise genes

Plants can listen in on bacterial communication and can even mimic this communication, possibly in an attempt to stop any attacks, according to a breakthrough in scientific understanding announced today in Melbourne. [click to continue…]

Cows produce more milk if they are given a choice of food, according to a study released today in Melbourne.

“Presentation and choice of food affects how much we eat. It’s the same for cows,” says University of Melbourne researcher, Danni Marotti. [click to continue…]


Ants have the answers when it comes to assessing the effects of land management on the environment.

Up to 20 million ants from 100 species live in any single hectare of the Australian bush, says CSIRO ecologist, Dr Ben Hoffmann. [click to continue…]


A naturally occurring bacteria has been shown to control diseases that attack cereal crops such as wheat, and at the same time boost the growth of crops.

The research conducted by Flinders University PhD student, Justin Coombs, found the bacteria in a place it had never been discovered before – the tissues of cereal crop plants. [click to continue…]

Scientists have developed a new environmentally-friendly way of killing boneseed, a weed listed among Australia’s top twenty “Weeds of National Significance”.

The new methods combines controlled fires, herbicides and revegetation, and replace the old ‘hit or miss’ method that threatened to wipe out rare and endangered plant species as it killed the boneseed. [click to continue…]

320 tonnes of acid spills into river- Ben Wilson

Research into acid-producing soils along major rivers in northern NSW has illustrated the threat posed by Mother Nature, not only sugar cane farmers, on fish stocks in the region, according to Dr Ben Wilson from Charles Sturt University. [click to continue…]

 Bacteria “talk” using chemical signals to prepare their attack on humans, animals and plants. Could a chemical from seaweed disrupt their conversation and stop the invasion? [click to continue…]

Soil development at snails’ pace: a pioneering study of soil formation in north Queensland shows that it takes 3000 years to form barely a millimetre of soil from the rocks beneath – too little, too long….. Too late! [click to continue…]