This Blog is part of our “Get to Know Our Ambassadors” Series. Each week, we’ll highlight a new Ambassador to help students understand more about the diversity of people and research projects available to students.

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Flowers are not just a beautiful and fascinating natural phenomenon, they also play a crucial role in maintaining global biodiversity and providing essential resources for human and animal life. From understanding the mechanics behind flowering to harnessing its potential for crop improvement and conservation, the study of flowering has far-reaching implications for our understanding and management of the natural world. 

My PhD research focuses on improving the production of Australian legume crops such as mungbean, which are high in protein and economic value. Specifically, I aim to better understand the physiological and genetic controls of legume flowering to optimise its reproductive behaviour and yield. To investigate how flowering works, I use molecular, genetic, and physiological approaches to characterise the flowering behaviour and signalling pathways. I grow diverse populations of closely related legumes under different environments to try and identify interesting and beneficial traits. I am also investigating the genes behind these traits through editing plants and creating mutants!

Legume crops are great for soil health, biodiversity and are important for sustainable agriculture. They can take nitrogen from the air and turn it into a type of nitrogen for other plants to use. This reduces the need for chemical fertilisers. Biodiversity in agriculture is important as when there are more plants growing in an area, it can attract different types of insects and animals that rely on plants for food and shelter. This, in turn, can help to promote biodiversity and create a more balanced ecosystem.

Ormnyr is a game where you learn about alleles and how they interact to summon different dragons to defeat your enemies. By creating punnett squares in Ormnyr you  can figure out how to breed and summon the right type of dragon and this is pretty much what we do in plant breeding! We want to hunt down genes which are ideal in different environments and try to create the perfect offspring, but it’s not always that easy! You will discover that some alleles are dominant, meaning they will always be expressed in the phenotype, whilst others are recessive and will only be seen if you have two copies of them.  The road to flowering is a lot like a puzzle, many parts interact and experiments can break this down. When we want to investigate these genes we also have to look at co-dominance and incomplete dominance, sex-linked traits, and how alleles segregate. And you can do this too when you play Ormnyr! 

Breeding and understanding DNA and inheritance are crucial for developing improved crops and addressing global challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, and population growth. By utilising advanced genetic technologies and knowledge of inheritance patterns, breeders can create crops that are more resilient, productive, and sustainable. So jump right in, start playing Ormnyr and learn more about the fascinating world of genetics and breeding.

Written by Caitlin Dudley

Caitlin is a PhD student at the University of Queensland and focuses on studying the evolution and diversity of flowering controls in legumes. She is fascinated by the puzzle-like network of flowering signals which involves temperature, daylength, sugars, hormones and more!

Book a virtual incursion with Caitlin!