As a 'library of sorghum mutants' growing at Gatton edges closer to harvest, excited researchers are keen to put the seeds to work to help improve grain production in a changing climate.
The crop at The University of Queensland's campus will be used by Australian and Danish researchers to find the best genes in the plant more efficiently.
Once harvested, seed will be taken from each individual sorghum plant and split between researchers in Australia and Denmark.
The Danish team will extract DNA from the seeds, analyse it and create a database.
UQ Professor Robert Henry said Denmark's Carlsberg Research Laboratory had the technology to screen very large numbers of individual sorghum lines cost effectively.
"Normally, plant breeders go for a big population because you've got a better chance of finding the one you want, but you can't go too big, because you don't have the resources to screen all those many thousands of lines," he said.
"What we've now got is a technique that allows us to look at hundreds of thousands of lines in a very short period of time and find the gene of interest.
"That involves getting DNA from all these lines and pooling them in different combinations. And it means that by analysing a relatively small number of samples, we can find out which sample the gene is in."
Carlsberg Research Laboratory vice president, Professor Birgitte Skadhauge, said there was a great need for the world to have better and more climate-tolerant crops, particularly in areas with marginal agriculture.
"A significant knowledge of plant genetics is essential for the sustainable production of crops bred for traits like increased drought tolerance and improved disease resistance," Professor Skadhauge said.
Professor Henry said at nine hectares, the crop was about 500 times larger than previous studies.
"It means that within a matter of days, we can potentially find a particular gene," he said.
"We'll identify the gene we want, send an email that we're looking for a mutation in a particular gene, they'll screen the material and then send us back the information about which seed packet it's likely to be."
He said the work was concentrated on sorghum because of its tolerance of hot, dry climates and its multiple end uses.
"We think of it as animal feed, but it is used as human food in quite a few places and I think it's probably got a growing potential there," he said.
Professor Henry is also interested in the broader sense of how agriculture replaces fossil carbon with plant based carbon.
And it's not so much in fuels, but other carbon based products like fabrics and carpets and plastics.
"We need a long term source of carbon for those and plants are the obvious renewable source, so agriculture has got a potential major new market there in reducing carbon emissions from producing all of those products," he said.
"Sorghum is seen as one of those plants that might be adaptable enough to fit that opportunity of being a source of biomass or carbon for a wide range of things."
He said this type of project provided a resource from which researchers could think more widely about developing sorghums for different purposes.
"Given we think it might have a wider future, we need a wider range of sorghums that it might suit all those different uses."
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