Brittany Robertson – PhD Candidate | BSc (Hons) Molecular Biology, Murdoch University

Australia is facing a growing challenge to meet its future food production targets as the climate changes. Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, and this is putting pressure on our agricultural sector.

One way to help address this challenge is to breed crops that are more drought-resistant. Brittany Robertson is a PhD candidate at Murdoch University specialising in plant genetics. She is currently using supercomputers to identify genes that could be used to breed drought-resistant crops. Brittany is particularly interested in barley genetic improvement, given that Australia represents up to 40% of the global malting barley exportation market. 

Brittany is part of a research group called the Western Crop Genetics Alliance (WCGA), led by plant molecular geneticist Professor Chengdao Li. The WCGA is a collaboration between Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia, and the CSIRO. The goal of the WCGA is to develop new crop varieties that are better suited to the changing Australian climate.

Brittany’s research is primarily focused on the genetic improvement of C3 grasses. C3 grasses are of high economic importance and comprise the majority of important food crops internationally. C3 crops are the most common type of crop grown in Australia, and they include wheat, barley, and oats. C3 grasses are particularly vulnerable to dry, hot environments such as those of the wheatbelt of Western Australia. 

For this research, Brittany is using supercomputers to identify genes that could be used to make C3 grasses more efficient in drought-prone environments. She is looking for genes with a variety of attributes, including those that control the way plants use water, respond to environmental stresses, and increase yield. 

Whilst her work is still in its early stages, Brittany has already made some promising progress. She has identified a number of genes that could be used to breed drought-resistant crops. She is now working to confirm the function of these genes, and to develop new breeding techniques that can be used to incorporate these genes into commercial crops.

Brittany’s work is important because it has the potential to help Australia meet its future food production targets. If Brittany is successful in developing drought-resistant crops, it will help to ensure that Australia has a secure food supply in the face of climate change.

Brittany is a talented researcher, and she is passionate about her work. In the future Brittany endeavours to work as a geneticist and bioinformatician to continue tackling some of the largest global issues in sustainability, health and food security. She is committed to finding solutions to the challenges facing agriculture, and is determined to help Australia become more resilient to drought.