Rachel Burton

Professor Rachel Burton

Head - Department of Plant Science

School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

Faculty of Sciences

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

My expertise is in the areas of plant molecular biology and plant functional genomics, particularly as it relates to cell wall biosynthesis, re-modeling and degradation and the impact these biological processes have on end use quality of cereals and biomass. Research in this area is mainly focused on barley as we have access to an excellent genetic transformation system and extensive genetic resources but we are now developing resources in other cereals and Plantago species. The gene families I have a particular interest in include the cellulose synthases, the mixed link beta-glucan synthases and the xylan synthases. Cellulose content is likely to have an impact on plant strength and is of central importance in the use of plants as a feedstock for biofuel production, whilst mixed-link glucans and arabinoxylans have major human health benefits and also crucially impact digestibility of animal feed and steps in brewing and baking processes. I also have an interest in the development and application of novel experimental methods for transcript profiling and gene discovery in plants.

Research Interests

I am a plant scientist and molecular biologist. I started out working on how starch is made in peas and potatoes but switched over to another polysaccharide, cellulose, when I arrived in Australia. I am now passionate about plant cell walls and all the ways that they can be useful to humans. I study the way that the walls are made, how they support and defend the plant they are part of and how they can be pulled apart and influence our daily lives. Plant cell walls can be fermented in the gut, as the vital dietary fibre component of our food, made into clothing and furniture, be fermented into beer or be converted into renewable fuels or bioplastics. They are truly versatile, essential to life on this planet and a fascinating thing to study.

As well as being Head of Department I have been privileged to be a Chief Investigator in two Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence, the first in Plant Cell Walls (2011-2017) and I have now joined the CoE in Plant Energy Biology which runs until 2020. Now I am internationally recognised for my expertise in plant cell wall biology, cereal grain quality, seed mucilage biology and biofuel feedstocks and am lucky to receive many invitations to speak at conferences and to visit collaborators all around the world. I am working on some very interesting plant species including Plantago (psyllium), chia, agave (tequila and bioethanol) and industrial and medicinal hemp (cannabis)

In my professional capacity I am actively engaged in a number of mentoring programs, have been a member of the Faculty of Science Gender, Equity and Diversity committee since its inception and have rejoiced in the recent shift in attitude across the University, and hopefully now permeating the sector, which is visible at the University of Adelaide as the Dornwell framework (https://www.adelaide.edu.au/gender-equity-diversity/dornwell/ ).

I have been incredibly lucky to be amongst the inaugural cohort of the Superstars of STEM https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/what-we-do/superstars-of-stem, a scheme run by Science and Technology Australia to pick 30 amazing women across Australia, provide leadership, media and outreach training and to make them visible as role models for young people, particularly women, to aspire to emulate. Amongst many other benefits this program has provided me with an inspiring mentor, a talented mentee, an expanded professional network and the chance to meet many high school students through the outreach component of the scheme.

 I really enjoy communicating my science to the public and demonstrating how what we are doing is actually useful to them. Outreach and education activities are common in my group and everyone is encouraged to join in. Science communication is more an art than a science and is an extremely valuable skill to learn, since often it is necessary to explain the value and relevance of scientific research to diverse audiences. This is most effective when it connects with core emotional values of the audience, rather than bombarding them with impenetrable, jargon-heavy bits of scientific data. I imagine that I am speaking to my bright but non-scientist family members, and this is a good trick to perfect. Links to some of my education, outreach and media portfolio can be found here;

GutWoman’s guide to a healthy gut  http://bit.ly/2rhCZgi

Industrial hemp – now legal for food use in Australia http://bit.ly/2FD7WQF and http://bit.ly/2HRugaY

Psyllium (Plantago) as a novel gluten-free crop for Australia https://ab.co/2HUh5GB and  http://bit.ly/2wcK8DC

Remarkable women in science profile http://bit.ly/2JRgzJQ      

A Pint of Science http://bit.ly/2rhwrOY                                     Follow me on Twitter @porridgepusher

Recent publications of my research include "Dissecting the Genetic Basis for Seed Coat Mucilage Heteroxylan Biosynthesis in Plantago ovata Using Gamma Irradiation and Infrared Spectroscopy" in Frontiers in Plant Science (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2017.00326) and "Differences in glycosyltransferase family 61 accompany variation in seed coat mucilage composition in Plantago spp." in Journal of Experimental Botany (https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erw424).

Journal Cover Image
One of our images on the journal cover
Staining patterns of seed from Plantago
Summary of RR staining patterns of seed from P. ovata WT and putative mutants from the Frontiers in Plant Science Publication


Tequila plant offers fuel for the future

Biofuels have an important role to play in our future, in terms of securing fuel supplies, addressing climate change, and creating new industry in South Australia.

Professor Rachel Burton from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls, is exploring a range of potential sources of biofuel. Their research on agave, the desert plant best known for producing tequila, shows that this fast-growing, highly water use efficient plan could be an ideal source of biofuel and other biochemical products in the future. “Bioethanol yields from agave fermentation could rival the most successful biofuel feedstock crops around the world,” says Rachel. “Importantly, it doesn’t compete with food crops, it’s fast growing so the whole plant could be used rather than just harvesting the leaves, and it is up to 10 times more water efficient than some other crop plants.” And this makes it ideal for the broad expanses of arid land in South Australia, providing potential for future farming and industry in our state.

Rachel and her team are working with AusAgave who have trial sites of agave established in Ayr in northern Queensland and Whyalla, South Australia.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2018 Head, Department of Plant Science University of Adelaide
    2016 Professor University of Adelaide
    2014 - 2015 Director University of Adelaide
    2012 - 2015 Associate Professor University of Adelaide
    2005 - 2011 Postdoctoral Research Fellow University of Adelaide
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    1992 John Innes Centre United Kingdom PhD
Date Investigators Title Amount Role
2011-2017 GB Fincher, A Bacic, RA Burton, MJ Gidley ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls $19,250,000 Chief Investigator
2012-2015 RA Burton GRDC Postgraduate Scholarship $90,000 Lead Investigator
2013-2016 GB Fincher, RA Burton, J Eglinton, J Whelan, D Stewart, B Skadhauge Physiology
and Genetics of Barley Grain Germination in the Malting and Brewing Industries
$675,000 Chief Investigator
2013-2016 RA Burton GRDC Postgraduate Scholarship $90,000 Lead Investigator
2014 RA Burton GRDC Conference Funding $8,000 Sole applicant
2014-2018 S Miklavcic, P Langridge, J Cai, H Laga, S Haefele, RA Burton, B Duggan, J
Field and quasi-field phenotyping for the quantitative characterisation of wheat yield under stress $400,000 Chief Investigator
2014-2015 RA Burton Go8_Subcellular Localization of
Oligo Fructans and Related Metabolizing Enzymes Involved in nutrient import during barley grain development
$20,000 Sole applicant
2014-2015 Burton RA, Furbank R Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, The Plant Accelerator/HRPPC NCRIS 2 $3,442,000 Chief Investigator
2015 S Persson, L Tilley, P McMillan, A Bacic, J Bowman, RA Burton, M Anderson, B Dichtl, GB
Fincher, J Whelan, G McFadden, R Gleadow
Spinning disk confocal microscope with dual stages $346,439 Chief Investigator
2017-2019 D Zhang, RA Burton, M Kater, L Dreni, M Bennett The role of specific SEP-like genes
in determining cereal inflorescence architecture
$513,500 Chief Investigator


  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2018 Principal Supervisor Plantago gene expression and regulation associated with seed shattering Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Amanda Grace Philpot
    2018 Principal Supervisor Understanding Root Responses of Cereals Conferring Tolerance to Alkaline Sodic Soils Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Jakob Schulz
    2018 Principal Supervisor Characterisation and Identification of Barley (1,3; 1,4)-B-Glucan Mutants Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Ghazwan Majid Karem
    2018 Principal Supervisor Investigating the Natural Variation in Root Morphology, Root Exudation and Abiotic Stress Resistance among Species of the Plantago Genus Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Melanie Nicole Ford
    2018 Principal Supervisor Analysis of Seed Development in Plantago Species Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Lina Herliana
    2018 Principal Supervisor Plantago Ovata (Psylium Gum) Grown for Designer Food Structure- Functionality Traits Doctor of Philosophy under a Jointly-awarded Degree Agreement with Doctorate Full Time Miss Migelhewage Dinithi Tharuka Jayampathi Silva
    2017 Principal Supervisor Analysis of Variable Plantago Mucilage Types Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr James Morgan Cowley
    2017 Principal Supervisor Functional Analysis of Xylan Biosynthesis Candidate Genes from Barley and Plantago SPP Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Kum Foeng Ang
    2016 Principal Supervisor Analysis and Utility of Succulents Species as fuel Feedstocks Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Benjamin Geoffrey Keiller
    2016 Co-Supervisor Genetics and Molecular Mechanisms of Inflorescence Development in Barley and Rice Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Hendrik Nicolaas Johannes Kuijer
    2015 Co-Supervisor Molecular and Genetic Characteristics of Early Aleurone Development in Barley and Wheat Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Matthew Kevern Aubert
    2015 Co-Supervisor Physiological and Molecular Cues Influencing Female Development in Cereal Crops Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Laura Gay Wilkinson
    2013 Principal Supervisor Analysis of Genes Involved in Cereal Cyst Nematode Resistance in Barley Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Christopher Hakachite
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2014 - 2018 Principal Supervisor Regulation of Reserve Carbohydrates in Hull-less Barley Grain Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Wai Li Lim
    2014 - 2018 Co-Supervisor The Analysis of Grapevine Response to Smoke Exposure Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Lieke Van Der Hulst
    2013 - 2018 Principal Supervisor Using Plantago ovata as a proxy to study plant cell wall polysaccharide biosynthesis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Jana Le-Lam-Thuy Phan
    2013 - 2016 Principal Supervisor Genetic Variation in Barley (1-3,1-4)-Beta-Glucan Endohydrolases Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Juanita Christine Lauer-Smith
    2013 - 2017 Principal Supervisor Identification of Genes Involved in Biosynthesis of Arabinoxylans, Ferulic and P-coumaric Acid in Barley Grain Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Ali Saleh Hassan Hassan
    2012 - 2016 Principal Supervisor The role of barley cell wall polysaccharides in host plant defence mechanisms against powdery mildew Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Md Jamil Chowdhury
    2012 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Characterization of Agro-Industrial Residues and Development of Processing Strategies for Conversion to Bioethanol Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Kendall Corbin
    2012 - 2016 Principal Supervisor Investigating the synthesis and regulation of (1,3;1,4)-ß-glucan biosynthesis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr George Dimitroff
    2011 - 2015 Co-Supervisor The Role of Calcium in the Cell Wall of Grape Berries Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Brad Hocking
    2011 - 2016 Principal Supervisor Metabolic Engineering of C4 Grasses for Biofuel Applications Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Riksfardini Annisa Ermawar
    2010 - 2017 Co-Supervisor The Evolutionary History and Dynamics of the Cellulose Synthase Superfamily Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Julian Schwerdt
    2009 - 2013 Co-Supervisor Analysis of Cellulose Synthase Genes and Regulatory Elements in Barley and Arabidopsis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Hwei Tan
    2009 - 2015 Co-Supervisor Regulation of (1,3;1,4)-beta-glucan synthesis in barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) endosperm and leaf tissues Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Sie Chuong Wong
    2006 - 2012 Principal Supervisor Cellulose, Stem Strength and the Endo (1,4) B Glucanase Gene Family in Barley and Maize Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Margaret Buchanan
    2005 - 2012 Co-Supervisor The Barley Expansin Family Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Maria Lombardi
    2001 - 2006 Co-Supervisor The Putative (1,3)-?-D-Glucan Synthase Gene Family in Hordeum vulgare Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Michael Scott Schober
    2001 - 2006 Co-Supervisor Functional Analysis of Cell Wall-Related Barley Glycosyltransferases Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Naser Farrokhi
    1998 - 2003 Co-Supervisor (1R3)-b-D-Glucan Synthases Of Plants Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Andrew Jacobs
    1998 - 2004 Co-Supervisor STUDIES ON (1-3)-_-GLUCAN SYNTHASES IN BARLEY Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Jing Li
    1997 - 2002 Co-Supervisor Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Arabinoxylan Metabolism in Barley Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Robert Lee
    1997 - 2018 Principal Supervisor The Expression of Hydrolytic Enzymes in Germinating Barley Grain Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Catherine Gibson
  • Position: Head - Department of Plant Science
  • Phone: 83131057
  • Email: rachel.burton@adelaide.edu.au
  • Fax: 8313 7116
  • Campus: Waite
  • Building: Wine Innovation Central, floor 4
  • Room: 4 28
  • Org Unit: School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

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