ARC DECRA Fellow
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.
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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.
Date Position Institution name 2020 Lecturer The University of Adelaide 2019 - 2020 Research Fellow The University of Adelaide 2014 - 2019 ARC DECRA Fellow University of Adelaide 2009 - 2013 Research Fellow University of Melbourne 2007 - 2009 Postdoctoral Fellow Australian National University
Date Institution name Country Title 2008 University of Adelaide Australia PhD 1994 - 1997 University of Adelaide Australia Bachelor of Science (Honours)
Year Citation 2002 Loughlin, P., Shelden, M., Tierney, M., & Howitt, S. (2002). Structure and function of a model member of the SulP transporter family. In Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics Vol. 36 (pp. 183-190). COOLANGATTA, AUSTRALIA: HUMANA PRESS INC.
DOI Scopus14 WoS13 Europe PMC9
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 (2015 - 2016) Screening for salt-tolerance in wheat using impedance spectroscopy: A novel technique to reveal performance of the hidden half.
I contribute to teaching in Foundations in Plant Science and Viticulture II
Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)
Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name 2021 Principal Supervisor Characterising the Salt Stress Response in Grapevines Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Hitasha Singh 2017 Co-Supervisor The role of Plant GABA under stress Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Ying Meng
Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)
Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name 2015 - 2019 Co-Supervisor Elucidation of the Ammonium Major Facilitator (AMF) Family in Plants Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Apriadi Situmorang
Date Role Committee Institution Country 2017 - 2019 Representative Australian Society of Plant Scientists Executive Discipline Cell Biology Australia
Date Role Membership Country 2015 - ongoing — Society of Experimental Biology — 1998 - ongoing Member Australian Society of Plant Scientists —
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