Entry for:2019 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)
Clonal avocado propagation is a major limitation for the growth of avocado industry. Conventional propagation method relies on availability of seedlings, bud-wood, special skills and incubation conditions consuming nearly 18 months to produce a plant. My project aimed to develop high throughput propagation using conventional biotechnology, "Tissue culture”. Avocado is a very recalcitrant plant for this purpose. Theoretically, this technology allows to produce a plant from every single cell in a piece of tissue under optimised, induced, species specific growth conditions. With numerous optimisations, I have established the world’s first tissue culture based clonal plant production system for avocado. This can produce about 500 plants from a single avocado shoot-tip within 10 months, compared to a single plant produced from one shoot in old practice. The technology needs on seedlings, grafting, etiolation period. Hence, independent from growing season for propagation and the plants produced are completely pest and disease free.
2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)
Avocado contributes ~$557 million (GVP) to the Australian economy. Queensland accounts for 62% of Australia’s avocado production (77,032 tonnes). Australian per capita avocado consumption is 3.5 Kg and imports over ~23.4 tonnes are essential to meet the growing consumer demand. Current shortage of high-quality plants is impacting both productivity and industry expansion, with a backlog of plant orders to 2022. High-density planting for high productivity orchards will require over 1000 plant/ha, more than doubling the current plant demand. The sole solution for clonal avocado propagation, is a 50-year-old technique, which can only produce one plant per cutting with a maximum efficiency of 60-70% success, at the expense of 18 months to produce a plant. This technique requires seeds, thus highly influenced by season.
The novel-tissue culture system I developed for clonal propagation of avocado can supply 500-fold more plants from a single cutting. This require no seeds, thus independent from seasonal effects and orchard management for seed supply. This new technology ensures timely, year around supply of disease-free plants in adequate volumes.
Using conservative estimates, Queensland avocado production could double to 70,000 tonnes/year ($960M/year) creating industry growth, jobs in the region and increased export value because of this technology. Consequently, Queensland farm gate profit could double from $21,182/Ha to $42,304/Ha. Australian avocados are treated premium in Asian markets. With this production boost the export potential could rise from 2.5% to 10% bringing foreign revenue to the state. This system would also support industry expansion into emerging regions such as North Queensland, where State identifies strong potential for productivity expansion. The quarantine-free nature of tissue culture plants facilitates export; Queensland is a gateway to exploit high-value exports to Asia, where avocado is gaining popularity. New skilled jobs will be created in avocado tissue culture sector that are more attractive to youth. Also, job opportunities will be increased across the nursery operations and supply chain to cope with expanding production sector.
The impact of this technology is not confined to avocado but applied for clonal propagation of other economically important species in Queensland. Growing the knowledge intensive services through science, research and innovation, my work attracted two new opportunities to work on medicinally important plant species for India and Canada. Further opportunities in lychee, citrus and macadamia are at its development stage. Queensland horticulture will be highly benefited with these initiatives, both in R&D and production sectors.
My invention, world’s first avocado tissue culture system has made Queensland the center of attention for clonal avocado propagation. Major companies in conventional avocado propagation/breeding from USA, South Africa, Spain and Greece have reached us to tissue culture their existing and new avocado cultivars. This Queensland-owned, trade-secret license for high throughput avocado propagation is now granted and Queensland is the home for the first ever commercial avocado tissue culture facility in the globe. As the sole-owner of IP, with no global market competitors for tissue culture avocado plants, Queensland has the distinct global competitive edge to establish as the world leader in avocado propagation.
3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)
I was engaged in research communications about this avocado success story in different platforms (oral/poster presentations, workshops, national/international articles and television programs). Beside the commercial confidentiality, I published a book chapter and five research articles on this topic during my PhD.
In 2015 I was invited to the Avocado Brainstorming meeting in Peru, a conglomeration of leading avocado researchers in the world, to present my innovative idea of high-throughput avocado clonal propagation. Again in 2018 i was invited for the meeting held in South Africa to present the success story of avocado tissue culture.
During my PhD I attended eight conferences to present my research. In 2015 I attended the 8th World Avocado Congress in Peru, the global gathering of avocado community, from researchers to growers to nutritionists. Same year I attended the TropAg conference in Brisbane. At the Tropical and Subtropical Horticulture conference organised by International Society for Horticultural Science in 2017, I presented another aspect of my work on how MicroRNAs are related to the phase change in tissue cultured avocado. I was awarded for the best student presentation and got an opportunity to publish an article in the ISHS website (http://www.ishs.org/news/temporal-profile-juvenility-associated-micrornas-during-tissue-culture-avocado-jayeni). In 2018, I attended the International Symposium on Production and Establishment of Micropropagated Plants in Brazil, where I gave an oral talk. In 2017 I won the Crawford fund scholarship to attend the TropAg conference. This gave another opportunity to release an article about my passion for science (https://www.crawfordfund.org/news/news-micropropagation-is-the-future-of-clonal-propagation-of-avocado-tropag-november-2017/). My research was selected for science communication competition at the Brisbane Life Science Early&Mid Career Research Symposium (2017), where I had to effectively communicate to a diverse group of scientists in different fields of STEM. I was the winner of this competition and awarded with an international travel grant. In 2018 I presented this new technology in two symposia at the 30th International Horticultural Congress in Turkey.
Impact of this work was recognized by Honourable ministers of Queensland, Kate Jones and Mark Furner, and i had an opportunity to show and tell how the avocado tissue culture is done at Mitter lab.
Being a finalist for campus travel Virgin Australia Woman in STEM Travel Grant (2017), I was selected to publish an article on campus travel website (https://www.campustravel.com.au/news/industry/avocado-research-set-smash-global-shortage). I am fortunate to be closely engage with industry collaborators due to the nature of my research focus. I was invited to presented at Horticulture Innovation Australia R&D planning meeting and workshop in 2017.
My work represents a major breakthrough to address the industry challenge of avocado clonal propagation. The significance was highlighted by Australian and global media.
The United Kingdom news website (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4807840/Is-smashed-avo-affordable.html)
The Courier Mail Australia
Daily mail Australia
The Source News
New Food magazine (https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/44127/queensland-avocado/)
PHYS ORG news (https://phys.org/news/2017-08-avocado-production-bottleneck.html)
The Australian Farmer (http://www.theaustralianfarmer.com/science.html#!/smashing-the-global-avocado-shortage).
Also, it was very exciting to appear in National television documentary on ABC Catalyst aired on 14th August 2018 about my innovation.
Hi I am Jayeni, PhD student from University of Queensland. I am passionate about creating a change with my expertise in science to make the world a better place for all. I specialized in plant biot...