Honours Projects

CCDM offers a wide range of Honours Projects and our available ones are listed below. If you would like more information on the projects or the application process, please contact agrischolarships@curtin.edu.au, clearly stating the name of the project and the nature of your query.

Small RNAs attack!

Stipend amount – $10,000 for one year.

Project outline: Recent reports suggest that many fungi send small RNAs into host plant cells to regulate host gene expression. Work in our lab has shown that this is probably the case for the fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, which infects more than 400 species of plant. This project would involve the generation and characterisation of S. sclerotiorum mutant strains lacking the key components of the small RNA pathway. It is anticipated that this project will shed light on a key aspect of fungal infection.

A stimulating hypothesis

Stipend amount – $10,000 for one year.

Project outline: The fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum infects hundreds of plant species and poses a significant problem to agriculture around the world. This pathogen is difficult to manage through traditional agricultural practices as it persists in the soil for up to 10 years. One way of managing soil-borne pathogens is to manipulate fungal germination. This could involve inducing germination out of season when no host plants are available, or inhibiting germination in season to prevent spread of disease. This project aims to do two things 1) assess the effects of germination-stimulating chemicals on the growth of S. sclerotiorum and 2) generate and characterise mutant S. sclerotiorum strains lacking germination-related genes. It is anticipated that this project will shed light on key aspects of germination and generate leads for future research into chemical control of soil-borne pathogens.

Exploring the toxic secretions of the barley Net Blotch fungi.

Stipend amount – available on enquiry

Project outline: Pathogens secrete several molecules into their environment, some of which are toxic to the host. Using analytical techniques such as chromatography you will explore the “secretome” of different Net Blotch isolates to correlate these toxins with barley susceptibility.

Survey of farmers canola and lupin bins for sclerote contamination

Stipend amount – available on enquiry

Project outline: Farmers typically retain seed of open pollinated canola varieties and of lupins at harvest for sowing the following year. If they have had Sclerotinia infection in their crop are they also ‘harvesting’ the sclerotes (the hard melanised structures of Sclerotinia) and so contributing to the spread of the disease in the following year.

Identification of isolate diversity in Sclerotiorum sclerotinia in the Western Australian wheatbelt

Stipend amount – available on enquiry

Project outline: Sclerotinia is a diverse disease that has over 400 broadleaf hosts. Previous research has shown that there are 12 dominant isolates of Sclerotinia found across the wheatbelt of WA, and that these are different to isolates identified in the northern hemisphere. However recent research has identified significant numbers of un-identified isolates from new collections. How do these fit into the worldwide collection?

Carpogenic germination temperature triggers in sclerotia – what is the upper limit?

Stipend amount – available on enquiry

Project outline: The production of apothecia (small mushroom-like structures) from sclerotes in the soil, that release spores are the primary reproductory method of Sclerotinia in the field. Recent research has shown that maximum germination occurs at alternating diurnal temperatures of 20/15°C, but that no germination occurs at 30/15°C. What is the upper limit beyond which germination does not occur between these two temperatures.

Determining the diversity of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum across Australia

Stipend amount – up to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: This is your chance to get involved in helping our researchers answer the important questions about the evolution of SSR in Australia. Your work will involve comparing genomic sequences of Australian and international isolates and testing for a range of possibilities including the potential for fungicide resistance.

Grass: A secret host for wheat disease?

Stipend amount – up to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: Wheat disease is a constant problem and can impact across other crops and grass species. We want your help in investigating the reactions of host and non-host plants to fungal disease and toxins. This research will give you the chance to put a range of skills and scientific approaches to the test.

Pathogen gene discovery: Toxic or not?

Stipend amount – up to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: Looking for a project that combines bioinformatics and molecular biology? You could play an important part in identifying and testing potential new toxins of major crop pathogens as part of your Honours project. Gene expression during plant infection will be studied and proteins purified to determine crop toxicity.

Get smart with wheat breeding

Stipend amountup to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: Want to play a role in crop improvement? This project could the one you are looking for. We are looking for someone to develop and test new genetic markers closely linked to genes for wheat disease resistance. Fluorescence-based PCR techniques will be used to screen markers on wheat varieties. Useful markers can then be passed to breeding companies for identifying disease resistance in commercial germplasm.

Up or down? Explore gene expression

Stipend amountup to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: Many fungal genes play a role in crop disease, such as those encoding toxins or enzymes for degrading plant cells and overcoming plant defences. This project asks you to examine the expression levels of the pathogenicity genes of a major wheat fungal pathogen. You will be using a range of molecular biology techniques such as RNA isolation, cDNA synthesis and qPCR.

What’s in a number? Exploring fungal chromosomes

Stipend amount – up to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: Chromosome size and number variations have been reported for fungal species, and this variation is known to play an important role in the evolution of virulence. When you take on this project you will be investigating the genome structure of a major fungal wheat pathogen, as well as the chromosomal location of pathogenicity genes. Your molecular biology skills will be put to good use as you work to uncover insights into pathogen genome plasticity.

Barley net blotch epidemiology, population genetics and gene flow

Stipend amount – up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: This project aims to examine the relative diversity of Net blotch isolates in Western Australia and the genetic structure of populations and their origin. You will be doing this through population genetics and gene flow analyses.

Host resistance to Net blotch of barley

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: In studying host resistance, this project will see you concentrate on phenotypic characterisation and genetic mapping of new resistance genes, along with transient gene expression and complimentary studies of resistance pathway mutants to define fundamental elements of host resistance.

Genetic screening for barley Net blotch virulence factors

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: Using forward genetics this project aims to find genes which are responsible for the onset and progression of barley Net blotch disease. You will be working to achieve this by generating mutant libraries and the subsequent screen for loss or gain of pathogenicity.

Reverse genetics of virulence factors from barley Net blotch

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project outline: While a forward genetics approach looks for the gene responsible for a specific phenotype, reverse genetics looks for the phenotype produced by a particular gene when changed or removed.  As a part of this project you will use reverse genetics to identify the function of effectors from barley Net blotch.

Identification of exotic resistance genes to powdery mildew in barley

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: The goal of this project is to identify new resistance genes in wild barley by genetic mapping or GWAS (genome wide association mapping) to molecularly characterise and understand the interaction of resistance genes.

Origin of WA barley powdery mildew isolates

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: Western Australian powdery mildew isolates are genetically distinct from isolates in Europe and the USA. To determine their origin, this project will examine the relatedness and genetic structure of Australian and overseas powdery mildew populations together with mildews from wild grasses. The project also seeks to clarify the role of conserved avirulence genes and their targets among different grass species.

Molecular processes underlying penetration resistance to powdery mildew in barley

Stipend amount up to $10,000 for one year

Project Outline: This project will explore global gene expression between different mlo lines (a mutation in the negative regulator of host resistance) to understand how mlo affects downstream resistance mechanisms.

Exploring pathogen resistance in lentil

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: Some current lentil varieties differ in their response to the important plant fungal pathogen, Ascochyta lentis. We have characterised isolates that can infect one variety but not another and are producing a genetic mapping population for lentil genes that confer these pathogen resistance traits. You will use GFP-labelled fungal isolates and microscopy to investigate the colonisation of different lentil hosts, screen the mapping population to evaluate resistance and susceptibility traits and produce QTL mapping data using genotyping-by-sequencing methods

Blackspot disease in Field Peas - Using Next-Generation Sequencing to assess pathogen populations.

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: Blackspot disease in field peas is a major biotic constraint to the production of field pea, an important grain legume crop. The disease is caused by a number of pathogen species and within each of these there is a wide range of different isolates that can be characterised by their genome sequence. You will develop a method for PCR amplification and multiplexed NGS DNA sequencing of fungal DNA from infected plants, to determine and discriminate the genotypes of individual isolates within populations.

Fluorescent labelling of Botrytis and Ascochyta and histology of plant infection.

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: Botrytis cinerea and B. fabae co-infect faba beans and lentils to cause the major plant disease, Botrytis Grey Mould. Ascochyta species similarly form disease complexes in infecting field peas. You will use existing protocols and develop new ones, for the production of transgenic fungal isolates that produce Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). GFP-labelled fungi will then be used to observe patterns of plant colonisation by fungi during infection.

Genetic mechanisms of resistance to Ascochyta in chickpea

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: Ascochyta blight is a major plant disease of chickpea and we have identified several germplasm accessions that have a significant level of genetic resistance to the causal organism, Ascochyta rabiei. You will take one of the mapping populations that we have available and screen the individuals for resistance to A. rabiei isolates. You will also be involved in QTL mapping as well as research using standard histology and staining methods, and using GFP labelled strains.

Faba bean mapping populations and plant resistance to disease

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: We have identified a number of faba bean accessions that are resistant to infection by ascochyta species. In 2019 we will have available mapping populations that can be assessed for segregation of the disease resistance traits. You will screen several F2 mapping populations for resistance and produce F3 and F4 families from selected lines.

NLP Effectors in field pea pathogens and investigation using molecular techniques.

Stipend amount – Available on enquiry

Project outline: We have a range of molecular techniques available for the study of biological processes in fungal interactions with field pea (Pisum sativum), including agroinfiltration and fungal transformation. In this project you will develop constructs in which the known pathogen NLP gene promoters are fused to the GFP coding sequence. You will use confocal microscopy to observe the timing and location of NLP gene expression during plant infection.

Find out more

Interested? If you would like to know more or talk through ideas and options for these projects please contact agrischolarships@curtin.edu.au