25 November 2004

Most people only think about legumes when they have a couple of peas roll off their forks and across the dinner table.

But researchers at The University of Queensland are planning to take the humble plant to new heights with the launch of a new research centre focused completely on legumes.

Officially opened today (Thursday, November 25), the $28 million Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research is working on a number of biotechnology research projects aimed at increasing legume productivity, quality and environmental adaptation.

But far from being another area of agricultural research, the Centre’s work on legumes also has implications for human health and the environment.

“There is little use for in having a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease in the future without quality air, water and food to live,” Centre director Professor Peter Gresshoff said.

“And while plant science always seems the poor cousin of biomedical research, so much of the work in genetics was born in plant research.”

“A lot of the work we do is equivalent to the stem cell work being done in biomedical research.”

Despite only being officially launched now, research had been going on for the past two years since ARC funding was approved with a number of world-leading breakthroughs already.

Professor Gresshoff said some of the notable discoveries included discovering one of the genes that control branching in plants, the discovery of new bacterial signals to plant as well as a world first in utilising the functional genomics to isolate a gene that controls organ numbers in soybeans.

Extensive research exists in the area of flower control and embryo formation, all subjects of high academic as well as economic impact. Researchers in the Centre are discovering novel signal substances that allow the communication between meristems, the growth centres of the plant.

“What that means is we have been able to find the bit of the soya bean that controls the amount of parts a plant makes,” he said.

“In human terms that would be like finding the part of the genome that would let you understand why we develop two eyes or two legs – it’s a big step in research.”

The Centre is based at UQ and has nodes at the University of Melbourne, University of Newcastle and the Australian National University.

Professor Gresshoff said with such a concentration of researchers, they were in a unique position to advance science in the field and were already garnering international recognition for their work.

“Our status has grown to the stage where we are now recognised on the world stage and are attracting top researchers to collaborate and work with us,” he said.

The Centre was officially opened by Mrs Linda Lavarch, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for State Development and Innovation.

Media: For more information contact Professor Peter Gresshoff (telephone 07 3365 3550) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (telephone 3365 2802 or 0405 186 732).