Megan Shelden

Dr Megan Shelden


School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

Faculty of Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Megan is an ARC DECRA Fellow. She gained her PhD in Plant Biology at The University of Adelaide. Megan’s research interest is in the area of abiotic stress (salinity, drought) tolerance in agricultural crops. Of particular interest to her is the ability of the root system to adapt to abiotic stress and maintain growth, increasing root soil exploration for nutrient and water uptake. Her expertise includes root biology, plant physiology, plant biochemistry, molecular biology and functional genomics. Her current research aims to identify the molecular mechanisms that control and regulate root growth in response to salinity using barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) as a cereal model. The knowledge gained in barley will provide important information for increasing salinity tolerance in other Australian cereal crops, most notably wheat.

Environmental stresses such as drought and soil salinity cause major crop yield losses in agriculture, significantly impacting on agriculture sustainability. Soil salinity is estimated to affect more than 800 million ha of land (FAO, 2008). Currently, 67% of the land affected in Australia is in the cereal (wheat, barley) growing regions, particularly impacting south-western and south-eastern Australia. Dryland salinity significantly reduces crop yields and is estimated to cost the Australian farming industry around $1.5 billion a year.

Two major factors are driving the need to improve agricultural yields.  The first is climate change, which means that wheat and barley are grown in increasingly hostile environments with soil salinity and drought both expected to increase this century, reducing the availability of arable land. The second is the increase in global population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. An increase in global agriculture productivity will be needed to meet the increase in demand for global food supply. 

In agricultural crops, the root system plays a critical role in determining crop yield. The root system is the first part of the plant to sense changes in the soil environment, thus roots need to rapidly adapt to these changes to maintain growth. Soil salinity and water deficit impose an immediate stress on the root system that results in a reduction in root turgor and growth. The ability of the roots to maintain growth in response to salinity is an important adaptation that allows increased soil exploration for water and nutrient uptake. In order to improve crop performance and yield in salinity-affected regions we require a better understanding of how cereals respond and adapt to salinity stress.

My research is aimed at understanding salinity tolerance in the agricultural crops, barley and wheat. Of particular interest to me is how the root system adapts to salinity stress and maintains growth, thereby continuing optimal uptake of nutrients and water from the soil. To identify crops that have root systems better adapted to saline soils, we can measure root growth in genetically different barley and wheat (domesticated, landraces and wild) that are adapted to grow in different climates around the world. My research has identified two genetically different barley varieties (tolerant and susceptible) that differ in their root growth in response to salinity. We aim to understand these adaptations (traits) by identifying the gene variants (alleles) that are responsible for the differences in root growth in response to salinity. We can obtain more information about how these genes function in plants by using technologies such as genetic modification (GM) and the relatively new technology, CRISPR. These gene variants can then be incorporated into breeding programs by traditional breeding or GM to develop new and improved wheat and barley varieties that are better adapted to saline soils.

ARC Discovery Grant (2020 - 2022) Root-to-shoot: modeling the salt stress response of a plant vascular system.

ARC DECRA Fellow (2014 - 2017) Getting to the root of salt-tolerance in the model cereal crop, barley.

PRIF Catalyst Research Grant: Screening for salt-tolerance in wheat using impedance spectroscopy: A novel technique to reveal performance of the hidden half.

I contribute to teaching in the the following courses:

  • Regulatory Approval for GM Plants
  • Applied Biology III
  • Biotechnology III
  • Position: ARC DECRA Fellow
  • Phone: 83136652
  • Email:
  • Campus: Waite
  • Building: Plant Research Centre, floor 1
  • Room: 1 88
  • Org Unit: School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

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