COBBITTY, NSW: Wheat rust experts from around the world consider the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute (PBI), in
Many of the world’s foremost plant pathologists and wheat breeders were trained at Cobbitty, among them Ravi Singh, Harbans Bariana, Davinder Singh, Sridhar Bhavani, and Kumarse Nazari.
“The PBI covers all aspects of plant breeding and its associated environments,” noted Robert Park, the Judith & David Coffee Chair of Sustainable Agriculture and the director of the GRDC-funded Australian Cereal Rust Control Program, or ACRCP, in welcoming the group to PBI at Cobbitty.
The University of Sydney has conducted research on the rust of wheat continuously since 1920, in a rust scientist pedigree that traces its lineage from the leadership of W.L. Waterhouse, to Irvine Watson, then Robert McIntosh and now Robert Park.
Watson purchased the original property at Castle Hill, where PBI was established in 1953. The new site at Cobbitty was officially opened in September 1991, with generous support from the Grains Research Development Corporation, or GRDC. PBI is one of the largest groups involved in cereal rust research in the world and today has 12 faculty, nine technicians, and 15 PhD students.
Cereal rust, plant breeding and horticulture are the main areas of interest for the Institute which conducts applied and basic research on cereal genetics relevant to various fungal rust diseases, improvement of cereal resistance to these diseases, and on the causative pathogens. Work includes rust resistance testing and pre-breeding services to all cereal breeding programs in Australia; rust resistance gene discovery and characterization, and the transfer of new genes into adapted germplasm; national surveillance of cereal rust fungal pathotypes present in the Australian cereal belt; advice to producers and breeders on rust-resistant cultivars. PBI’s website claims that their breeding philosophy is “minimum inputs for maximum outputs.”
The infrastructure in the growth chambers within the greenhouse structures is remarkably complex. Even though it rarely goes below freezing in NSW, each chamber has its own air-handling ducts, temperature and humidity controls. This keeps rust cross-contamination to a minimum and allows for many multiples of trials with various pathogens.