Ryan Whitford

Ryan Whitford

School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

Faculty of Sciences

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

Ryan is a plant molecular biologist who's research interests are in floral developmental biology and the underlying molecular mechanisms behind plant responses to abiotic stress. He has previously worked on projects ranging from meiosis to extracellular peptide-based signalling in Arabidopsis and cereals. Ryan completed his PhD at the Co-operative Research Centre for Molecular Plant Breeding at the University of Adelaide, after which he worked as a Molecular Biologist for Bayer Cropscience GmbH (Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany) before a postdoctoral period within the Flemish Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (Ghent University, Belgium). He is now leading the hybrid wheat program at the Australian Centre of Plant Functional Genomics (Adelaide, South Australia).

SEMThe FAO predicts that major improvements in wheat yields will be critical to ensuring global food security (FAO, 2013). Over the past decade, wheat yield improvements from conventional crop breeding has tapered off. This stands in contrast to the situation in rice and maize where yield improvements have continued unabated. Several reasons have been proposed for this difference between maize and wheat:

  1. increased private sector investment in maize research
  2. early adoption and implementation of GM technologies
  3. increased opportunities provided by hybrid breeding.

Hybrid wheats hold the potential to increase yields and will open a range of new breeding opportunities. Although capturing heterosis in wheat has historically been intractable, a recent experimental survey of European winter wheat combining ability indicates yield gains of 10% can be achieved (HYWHEAT consortium, Longin et al., 2013). Commercial exploitation of this heterotic yield gain is likely to be difficult due to wheat’s strong inbreeding nature, a factor primarily governed by floral development and architecture, and the lack of a cost-effective and practicable fertility control system (Whitford et al., 2013). The aim of ACPFG’s Hybrid Wheat Research team is to reduce hybrid seed production costs by

  1. Developing a robust male sterility and restoration system, and
  2. Improving wheat’s floral characteristics for out-crossing


SectionProject Title: Developing a fertility restoration system for hybrid wheat seed production

Project Partner: DuPont-Pioneer

The fertility control team is responsible for identifying novel gene sequences necessary for wheat fertility. The program exploits mutant resources by next generation sequencing and the latest bioinformatic analyses in a forward genetics approach towards gene identification. Reverse genetics techniques including mutant complementation and genome editing (CRISPR/cas9) are used to validate which fine-mapped gene sequences are necessary for ensuring fertility. Fertility genes and their encoded proteins are typically characterised at the transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomics levels relative to their specific roles in reproductive development.


  • Positional cloning
  • Molecular markers
  • Genotyping by Sequencing (GbS)
  • Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS)
  • RNAseq/qRT-PCR
  • Quantitative PCRFloral architecture for members of the Triticeae
  • Cloning/Vector construction
  • GC-MS-based metabolite profiling
  • Light and confocal microscopy
  • SEM, TEM
  • Phenotypic analyses on floral and reproductive development
  • Glasshouse and field work
  • Biolistic and Agrobacterium mediated transformation
  • Genome editing


  • FAOSTAT (2013) http://faostat3.fao.org/home/index.html
  • Longin CFH, Gowda M, Mühleisen J, Ebmeyer E, Kazman E, Schachschnieder R, Schacht J, Kirchhoff M, Zhao Y, Reif JC.(2013) Hybrid wheat: quantitative genetic parameters and consequences for the design of breeding programs. Theoretical and Applied Genetics doi 10.1007/s00122-013-2177-z.
  • Whitford, R., Fleury, D., Reif, J.C., Garcia, M., Okada, T., Korzun, V., and Langridge, P. (2013) Hybrid breeding in wheat: technologies to improve hybrid wheat seed production. Journal of Experimental Botany (Darwin Review) DOI: 10.1093/jxb/ert333.
  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2019 Affiliate Senior Research Scientist The University of Adelaide
    2008 - 2018 Research Scientist Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
    2002 - 2003 Molecular Biologist Bayer Cropscience
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2015 Award Adelaide University Emerging Industry Research Partnership Award University of Adelaide Australia
    2001 Nomination Young Australian of the Year in the Science and Technology Australia
    1998 Award National Farmers Federation Prize University of Western Australia Australia
    1997 Award Eva Sobotka Memorial Prize University of Western Australia Australia
    1997 Award Henry (Senior) Seeligson Memorial Prize University of Western Australia Australia
  • Language Competencies

    Language Competency
    Dutch; Flemish Can read, speak and understand spoken
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    1994 - 1997 University of Western Australia Australia Bachelor of Science Honours (1A)
  • Postgraduate Training

    Date Title Institution Country
    1998 - 2002 PhD University of Adelaide Australia
    Postdoctoral Fellow Ghent University Belgium
  • Research Interests

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

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2016 - 2020 Co-Supervisor Understanding Flower Development in Barley (Hordeum Vulgare) through Characterisation of Multiovary Mov Mutants and Their Potential Use in Hybrid Breeding Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Caterina Selva
    2014 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Wheat non-specific Lipid Transfer Proteins: identification and characterisation of nuclear-encoded fertility restorer genes Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Allan Kouidri
    2014 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Genome editing in wheat with CRISPR/Cas9 Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Taj Arndell
    2011 - 2015 Co-Supervisor Investigating the Role of Tetrapyrrole Biosynthesis under Drought Stress in Cereal Transgenics Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Dilu Nagahatenna
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2020 - ongoing Editor Agronomy Journal University of Adelaide Australia

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